BY Lyndsey Koh
Iraq (MNN) — Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities gathered in Washington two weeks ago and proposed for there to be a safe zone created for them in the Nineveh Plains, which are northeast of Mosul in northern Iraq. The idea would be for the safe zone to potentially become a sovereign state in the future.
(Map courtesy of Christian Aid Mission)
The proposal hasn’t gained much traction, but a lot more would need to be answered first, says Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs, USA.
“It just raises so many questions. How would this happen? Who would defend it? Would the governments in that area allow such a thing to exist? And who all would be welcome there?”
Nettleton continues, “Typically when we are talking in this context about Christians, we’re talking about traditional Christians, people who were born into a Christian family. What does this proposal mean for Muslim converts, those who were born in a Muslim family but have made the decision to follow Christ? How would they be affected by this?
“The other thing that immediately comes into my mind is the Kurds, and the fact that the Kurds in that area have been pushing for some type of autonomous Kurdish region or even a Kurdish nation that would be carved out of some of the surrounding nations for decades. So how would this affect their call for statehood?”
The biggest point of note — if Christians pull out of their communities in Iraq and other nearby countries, it would be a detriment to the spread of the Gospel in the Middle East.
“If you separate out all of the Christians and put them in one area and you put all the Muslims in a different area, who’s going to go to the Muslim area and share the Gospel? How are Muslims going to encounter Christ through the example and testimony of their neighbors and coworkers and friends?” Nettleton asks.
“Obviously it would take active, God-ordained mission to go and reach out across those lines if you create a separate area, if you draw those lines so clearly. Obviously, as Christians, we want somebody to go across those lines and share the Gospel with those who don’t know.”
It should be a challenge to Christians everywhere, especially Western Christians. How often do we sacrifice having an impact for Christ on the altar of our personal safety and comfort?
“It certainly is not easy for [Iraqi Christians],” says Nettleton. “Many thousands of Christians have left that area completely. They have moved to Europe or they’ve moved to Canada or the United States. So the statistics are that what was once a body of Christians that was 1.5 million is now less than 300,000. There’s already a lessening of that Christian example and influence.”
One thing is certain: Iraq’s Christians need encouragement if they are to stay and be a light for the Gospel.
That’s why Voice of the Martyrs is actively supporting persecuted Christians all over the world, including Iraq.
“We have a very active ministry in this region actually working with Christians who have been displaced by ISIS, not only in northern Iraq, but also in some of the other surrounding countries, helping them with aid in terms of humanitarian aid — food, shelter, medicine, that type of thing.”
Nettleton says it’s not just physical aid, “But also helping them with spiritual aid, with Bibles, with other Gospel materials and equipping them to reach out to Muslims around them — to reach out with the Gospel, to share God’s Word, to share some of that humanitarian aid as a way of ministering, as a way of saying, ‘The Christians are helping us. Jesus loves you. That’s why I’m helping you with this.’”
If you have a heart for evangelism in the Middle East, God can use you to support believers there.
One way is to put together a family med pack with Voice of the Martyrs for persecuted Christians. This is something you can do with friends, family, or your church or small group!
Nettleton explains, “We send people a bag, they pack it with the list of items that are there, things like just basic medical cabinet items we all take for granted. But someone who’s been forced out of their home, is maybe living in a displaced person camp in a tent, it is a God-send to them to have some Band-Aids, topical ointment, antibiotic cream, some of the things that would go in this family med pack.
“[You] pack those, you mail them to us here at our headquarters in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and we will deliver them to Christians in the Middle East, as well as Christians in other parts of the world who are persecuted for their faith in Christ.”
The second way you can be an encouragement is to pray. While praying for them sounds simple, it takes more than just a thought of, “Yes, I should do that.” It takes actually adding the request to your prayer list — or pausing where you are right now, and lifting up Iraq’s Christians before the throne room of God.
“We want to pray that the Christians who are there [in Iraq] will continue to have a witness, but also obviously for God’s protection over them in what is a region that is really constantly in upheaval and war.”