VOM sent a team to Iraq to look over its projects distributing Bibles, Christian literature, and Action Packs; and “to talk to believers and get a sense of what is going on with the church.”
VOM’s director of media development Todd Nettleton found that the Iraqi church has not gone underground, but terrorists are targeting the church wherever it is visible. However, the Iraqi government is not directly responsible for the persecution.
“It’s not a situation where an Islamic government is saying, ‘We want to wipe out all the Christians,'” Nettleton explained. “The persecution is coming typically from Islamic terrorists or from family members… If you were a Muslim and you become a believer, that’s sort of a mark of shame on your family, and so your family members will come and try to convince you that you’re not going to be a Christian anymore.”
Nettleton is not sure whether the Iraqi government is unable or unwilling to protect the Christians.
“I don’t know if it’s a lack of willpower or a lack of firepower,” he said. “There seems to be enough sympathy for the radical Islamic position within the armed forces, within the police force, that there’s not that sense of â€˜we will put a stop to this, whatever it takes.’ And so Christians there are living in fear, and many of them are fleeing their town or they’re fleeing the country altogether.”
Nettleton described the city of Mosul as the “ground zero” of persecution in Iraq. He spoke with the pastor of one of five evangelical Presbyterian churches in the city.
“He said…his [church] is the only one that still has a pastor, because pastors have been assassinated; pastors have fled the country,” Nettleton said. “So…the real challenge is having leaders that will stay through the difficult times, that will survive being targeted by the terrorists and continue to work and lead the church.”
Nettleton explained that Iraqi Christians are not asking for prayer that God will end the persecution.
“Their prayer is that ‘we’ll be faithful in spite of the persecution and we’ll continue to be able to continue to do the Gospel work here.'”
In addition to praying, Nettleton said that the Americans should provide protection for Iraqi Christians when their troops leave the country.
“As we discuss our withdrawal and bringing American troop involvement to a close, there needs to be a security structure so that our Christian brothers and sisters there are not simply left hanging out there with targets on their back when we pull out and leave,” he said.