A couple of years ago, National Geographic dedicated a big chunk of its issue to address the drastically dropping number of Christians in the Middle East under the title: “The Forgotten Faithful.” Unfortunately, not much attention was given to the facts accompanied by true personal stories describing the deteriorating situation Christians were encountering. What strikes me most is that in these last two years the struggle has morphed from a “feeling of being a minority” to a “feeling of being a target.” In the last two years Christians in the Middle East have been targets of fanatical, brainwashed suicide bombers purifying the nation of the infidel crusaders.
In October 2007, Rami Ayyad (a Palestinian Bible Society staff member) was kidnapped in Gaza after closing the only Bible bookshop in Gaza City. The next day his body was disposed of in one of the fields, and torture marks on his body reflected the brutality of his killers. An Al Qaida group functioning in Gaza claimed responsibility for bombarding the bookshop twice and killing Rami. Yet, because this was an act upon an individual, it did not make headlines.
Larger attacks got more attention as Christians throughout the Middle East all shared the agony on Sunday evening October 31st 2010: the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq, which left at least 58 people dead after more than 100 had been taken hostage. On New Year’s Eve of 2011, just 20 minutes after midnight, as Christians were leaving a Coptic Orthodox Church in the city of Alexandria, a car bomb exploded in front of the church killing more than 20 and injuring more than 75.
After an incident, anger and hatred are the first clear reactions I witness from many of the Christians. Emotions of hatred towards anything Muslim, and a feeling of betrayal stir up every time an attack is carried out. But, I also hear reactions like: “Not all Muslims want to kill Christians, it is just a very few that have these radical thoughts. The majority would never think this way.” And I hear an echo coming from a Muslim living in Afghanistan who has watched a fanatic pastor threaten to burn the Koran: “Not all Christians are evil… it is just these few radicals.”
Should we allow the gruesome actions of one individual to affect the mindset of a whole nation? This is how things are, and the danger is it allows for these people to build more walls of hatred and create wider delusions - that religions are at war. On the contrary, I urge every Arab Christian to stand even more firmly in his homeland, and to play a more active role in his surrounding community. We need to remind each other, and the people around us, that our ancestors were the first people to receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost 2000 years ago. We need to remind them that our great grandfathers have played a very important role in shaping the Arab world and its structure. Christian Arabs were and still are some of the leading pioneers in influencing health, social, artistic and cultural arenas across the Middle East, not to mention the many creative, inventive and imaginative people known in the history of this region. As Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation for more than 60 years we have learned how to endure.
Today, the world is asking how a Middle East without Christians will look. While many strive to find answers, others try to find solutions. One observation was: “A Middle East without Christians is no longer an Arab Middle East, only a Muslim one.” Yet as a Christian Arab I am reminded of the words Jesus said: “I have told you this so that through me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but be courageous - I have overcome the world!" We are called to be courageous, to fulfill our calling by being Salt and Light in this part of the world at this particular time in history. To be Light because there is so much darkness, hopelessness and sorrow around us; we bring hope. To be Salt because salt preserves, and we should preserve the Love of God through preserving His Kingdom on Earth, praying: “Forgive them, Father, because they don’t know what they are doing.”
Director of Information and PR – The Palestinian Bible Society
Jan 15th 2011
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