THE CHURCH IN IRAQ: BADLY BRUISED BUT NEW SHOOTS ARE GROWING

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1. History

Iraq lies at the epicentre of all human civilisation. As part of the larger Fertile Crescent, the land once known as Mesopotamia saw the earliest emergence of civilization after the flood. So many names and places from Iraq appear in the Old Testament it would take far too long to mention them all. Suffice to say it is the second most mentioned country in the Bible and was home to Adam and Eve Abraham, Amos, Daniel and Esther. Its where the Israelites were exiled to and where the three wise men came from.

Empires such as the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians came and went over several millennia BC. After the fall of the Babylonian Empire, Mesopotamia fell under Persian and then Greek rule. By the time of Christ it was once again under Persian Sassanid control and they fought the Romans for six hundred years in one of the longest conflicts in human history.

By 750 AD the Baghdad-based Persians, who were wiped out by the Byzantines in 630 AD, were back in control of the newly minted Arab Empire, and their scholars largely created the origin myths that we now associate with Muhammad, Mecca and the birth of Islam. It was Christian scholars who translated the newly-arrived Greek classics into Arabic, thereby ushering in the Muslim golden age and assuring the transfer of Greek learning back to Europe during the Crusades and intellectually transforming that continent. Between 750 and 1500 AD  most of the large Nestorian and Syrian Christian population slowly gave in to Islamic political pressure. Yet many of these ancient churches remained faithful and as late the early 20th Century Iraq was still home to a million Assyrian and Nestorian Christians.

2. Today

But sadly, not anymore. The huge upheaval that was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the turmoil of the Gulf Wars that followed and the genocide of ISIS has decimated the traditional churches, which mostly lived in the north where ISIS plundered and massacred. Islamists continue to torment traditional Christians largely at will across Iraq and masses continue to emigrate. However, Christians are not the only minority to suffer in recent years. The Yazidis, Kurds, Bedouin and others are also in the headlights of bigoted, violent Islamism. In fact the whole country splinters down ethnic and religious lines: Sunni v Shia, Arab v Kurd, Muslim v minorities, even ancient Christian denomination v denomination!

The nation has been an oil-based economy since Genesis 11:3 and is still living off oil revenues with a very unevenly distributed income level of 6% of the USA. Corruption is rampant, infrastructure is in desperate need of rebuilding after repeated wars. Some 600,000 have been killed and 2 million made homeless. Eighty percent of the population is under 40 years of age and unemployment is huge. Iraq is a mess!

3. Evangelical Highlights

And yet into this crazy mix of ethnic, religious, political and economic turmoil God has birthed something new; a growing and vibrant Muslim-background evangelical church. Before the Gulf Wars there were fewer than a thousand believers in the country, and that included those within the older denominations with roots back to the New Testament. Now there are somewhere between fifty and a hundred thousand new and strong evangelical Christians and they are growing  around 4% a year. For over a thousand years the traditional denominations never countenanced the idea of reaching out to the Muslim majority, so God has raised up new wineskins for a new era of harvest. Some new MBB believers have even come from ISIS backgrounds and are running churches that reach out to hurting people! Many Muslims have come to Jesus through dreams and visions of Christ, through acts of love from caring Christians. There is even a church movement among the Kurds of the north for the first time. For the time being they are much more open to the Gospel than other Muslims in Iraq.

4. Prayer Points

  1. Pray for the ancient churches, that they will be revitalised by the power of the true gospel as they have in Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia
  2. Pray for the networks of new believers that are under pressure from their old religion and culture, that they would grow virally.
  3. Pray for leaders. They face incredible hardship from Muslim extremists on a daily basis
  4. Pray for the Marsh Arabs. Very few if any know the Lord.
  5. Pray for the hundreds of thousands who have lost everything at the hands of ISIS
  6. Pray that the Domari gypsies, the Yazidis and the Bedouin. Few know Jesus.
  7. Pray for Christian media to impact more and more homes and families.
  8. Pray for an explosion of truth, love and power from the Holy Spirit to overwhelm the horrific works and lies of Satan in this sad and weary land. A

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