Last month an Open Doors-led delegation went into Iraq to meet and encourage the Iraqi Christians and to assure them of the prayers of millions of Christians in the West in the aftermath of the war.
The Iraqi Christians, who number around 500,000, thanked their Western brothers and sisters for praying for them through this turbulent time. A Chaldean Catholic nun, Sister Margaret, said, ?Your prayers have made all the difference for us.?
?We need to continue to keep the Iraqi Christians in our prayers during this critical time when the future of their country and their lives is being determined,? says Jerry Dykstra, Media Relations Coordinator at Open Doors USA. ?We need to step out boldly in prayer and ask God to bless them spiritually and physically. And also pray that decades of persecution may come to an end and they can worship and evangelize in freedom.?
Here is a list of prayer needs from the Iraqi Christians:
What to pray for:
- The swift stabilization of the country. There is so little law and order in the big cities. People have not been paid for three months. Employment is needed so that normality can return. Iraq should be a rich country, with the second largest oil reserves in the world. But in the words of Sister Margaret, ?Oil has not been a grace, but a curse because it has caused so many fights. Pray it will become a true grace for the people.?
- Wise administration. Pray for those in charge of rebuilding Iraq that they will pick the right people for the job. Said an official, ?It?s so hard to know who to choose because so many are compromised by their previous associations with the Ba?ath Party. But they are often the only ones with experience of running essential services.?
- Safety for visiting Christians. It is still hazardous to move around the country. Aid caravans are often attacked. Some church workers from abroad have already been robbed by gun-totting bandits. Pray that aid will get safely through and that the men of violence will soon be disarmed.
- Hope for Iraqi Christians. Many Christians are depressed, despite having survived the war. They do not see any benefits from the change of regime. They barricade themselves in darkness in their homes each evening, fearful of robbers and looters, or even of those wishing to settle family feuds. Said a Baghdad Christian, ?If you have an enemy right now, better stay at home and pray he has not got a gun.? Help them to cling to hope that things will get better in time.
- Revival among the historic churches. Chaldean Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic -- just three of the ancient church traditions in Iraq that have kept the faith though centuries of oppression. Pray that these churches will move from simply surviving to thriving in the days ahead.
- Greater fire among the evangelical churches. According to a Kirkuk pastor, ?Our prayer times during the war transformed us from timid Christians to ?on-fire? Christians, because we felt God so close at a time of crisis. Pray we will be able to be bold in the future. Pray that we?ll have the freedom to evangelize Muslims.?
- A new moral culture. Christians say that extensive looting reveals that Iraqis are morally damaged from living under the oil embargo and the years of brutality under Saddam. There is a desperate need to re-educate the people in moral virtue.
What to pray against:
- A spirit of fear. Many Iraqis have known nothing else than living under a tyrannical regime. Said a pastor, ?Saddam Hussein is more than a man for us. He?s a mighty demon. Until we see him in handcuffs, many people will live in fear that he will return again.?
- Shiite extremism. Iraq is 65 percent Shiite, and they were an oppressed group under Saddam. But now they are clamoring for more freedom, and some of their hard-line clerics want sharia law to be imposed on the country. Some are even calling for violence against former regime members and collaborators. Most Shiites are not extremists, however, and we should remember that more Muslims than Christians suffer from Islamic fundamentalism.
- Identity wars. Iraq is a patchwork of different ethnic groups, some of which loathe each other. This even infects the church. Said a priest in Baghdad, ?I meet so many Christians who say, ?The most important thing is that I am a Chaldean.? I say to them, ?Is that all? Did Jesus not set you free? I am not the son of my father first. I am a son of God.??
- Western exploitation. Iraqis are a proud people. If they think their country is being carved up for the benefit of outside economies, they will be very angry. Extremism will flourish. Pray that the Western interim administrators will take care to involve the Iraqi people in the rebuilding of the country.
- Mass emigration of Christians. Christians are less than three percent in Iraq and saw a further 25 percent of their numbers leave in the last 10 years. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians abroad. Pray that these Iraqi Christians living abroad will return to help the church rebuild the country.
- Arrogant evangelism. Western missionaries will surely come to Iraq in big numbers soon, but pray they will be sensitive to the local situation and work with the local believers wherever possible. Warned Fr. Jousif, ?If you want to evangelize, work with the Iraqi churches. Otherwise you will make us more enemies we could do without. Respect us ? we are your roots.?
An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer persecution for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination for being Christian. Open Doors, founded in 1955 by Brother Andrew, author of the bestselling book, ?God?s Smuggler,? seeks to serve and strengthen the Persecuted Church in the world?s most difficult areas through training, literature distribution, community development and personal encouragement. To partner with Open Doors call 949-752-6600, go to its USA web site at www.opendoorsusa.org or write Open Doors with Brother Andrew, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799.
(Media: For more information or to set up an interview, call Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117).
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