Our guests discuss the current persecution of Christians in Iraq, how we can pray and how we can talk to our children about what's happening.
John: If you have any brothers or sisters, you might have some disagreements with them. You might get annoyed at each other, but deep down, you have a connection and it lasts forever. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and today, we're talking about a family connection. It's what's happening to your brothers and sisters, your Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
Jim: Uh … John, in fact, the Scripture says right in 1 Corinthians 12:26; "If one member suffers (meaning a member of the Christian body, the Christian community) … if one member suffers, all suffer together."
Jim: And uh … boy, our Christian brothers and sisters, along with other religious minorities in Iraq are suffering right now. And of course, the news began to cover this maybe a bit late in my opinion, but they are now on it and we have seen over the last couple of weeks that coverage showing what's been going on with ISIS, also called "the Islamic State." And we want to talk about that today and bring some perspective from people that have a firsthand account.
John: Yeah, Jim, this is such a complex part of the world, but you've been there. You know the landscape to some degree and you understand probably more than many of us what's going on behind the scenes there.
Jim: John, some of my fondest memories working here at Focus on the Family for 25 years, is the time spent in my international work. And I was there in Iraq right after Saddam Hussein's statue was pulled down in May of '03.
John: Oh and that image is burned on the minds of so many.
Jim: Right and we went there with Sami Yacoub, who runs our office in Cairo, Egypt. And he is a terrific person, a wonderful Christian man. And we have been working together in the Middle East for over 15 years. And about six or seven of us went into Baghdad and spent time meeting with radio managers and we were able to place an Arabic version of the "Family Commentary" there in the Middle East and have stayed in touch ever since. And so, we know people there. We know the area, the territories they're talking about, the tribes that we're talking about. And what we want to do is talk to just a couple of people today that are actually there, that can give us a perspective that I don't think we're gonna get anywhere else.
Jim: Let me say, our first guest I met back in '03 when I was in Baghdad. He suffers from MS and so, you may hear that a little bit in his voice. Let's go ahead and get him on the line. His name is Reverend Canon Andrew White, the chaplain of Saint George's church in Baghdad, Iraq, where he's been for more than 15 years. Canon White, you're actually in Baghdad today. Let me welcome you to "Focus on the Family."
Canon White: Thank you very much.
Jim: We are talking about tremendous atrocities being committed against Christians in the Middle East, in Iraq. Tell us what's happening. What is going on? And paint the picture for us.
Canon White: It's one of the worst situations which has ever faced Christians here. Christians have been here for nearly 2,000 years. And Nineveh has been the place … there are followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob since the miserable evangelist arrived by submarine, called Jonah. And these people eventually became the followers of the Messiah, when doubting Thomas came by on his way to India.
And since then, Nineveh has been a Christian town and three weeks ago, for the first time in hundreds of years, there was no worship in Nineveh on Sunday. And now every single Christian has been forced out of Nineveh and there is no Christian presence there. And one of the families was one of my former members of staff who had retired back to Nineveh. And I had baptized all his children and the last one was a little boy, who is named after me. He was called Andrew. And they got him and the family and they slaughtered the child and he is no more. And it's one of the most difficult, dangerous and painful experiences to me of this whole situation.
Jim: Canon White, I can't imagine what that experience must be like, to know that you baptized this child, this 5-year-old boy. That is just inconceivable. You have such a close connection to these people, these families. How can any human being kill a 5-year-old boy? It's just unimaginable.
How do you, seeing that kind of evil, knowing what is happening, getting the reports from people that have been part of your church there in Baghdad, how do you pray for those who persecute you as the Scriptures requires of us? And how do you pray for those who hate you? That's not humanly possible, is it?
Canon White: Well, the thing is, that our Lord teaches us to love our enemies. And these people are really enemies. They are out to destroy us. They are out to bring death and total destruction. And we still try and help them. One of our young people said the other day when somebody asked how she managed to be so happy when everything was this bad, she looked at them and said, "When you've lost everything, Jesus is all you've got left. And we have lost everything."
Jim: I mean, that is tremendous faith on the part of a young girl to have that kind of foundation to be that rock solid. Um ... many of those children, too, they've grown up in a culture in the Middle East that doesn't value Christianity. So, in many ways, they've had to learn by experience how to be strong in their faith and cling to Jesus when He truly is all that they have.
Here in the West, we could take a lesson from them, can't we in terms of, you know, how good and how strong is our own backbone to stand up to persecution. I mean, in many ways, you must be encouraged in terms of the faith that these families are expressing, that even in the face of persecution and death, the death of their child even right before their eyes, or the death of their fathers and mothers before the children's eyes. Yet, they walk away saying, "We're gonna continue to believe in Jesus." That should be an encouragement to many of us, no matter where you're from, as long as you believe in the Lord.
Canon White: Yet today as we listen to their stories, they said, "Abuna." Abuna is what they call me, "our father" they call me. They said, "We can't continue like this. We wish we were dead. We can't take anymore. It's taken more than we can cope with."
Jim: Canon White, I think I'm mostly heartbroken by that, because what that expresses is a loss of hope. And it's reasonable and understandable that, that would be the case. But what Scripture are you leaning into right now for you and your worshippers there in Baghdad? What are you trusting in?
Canon White: The Scripture which helps us is from Romans 8:17, following where it says that unless you share in the sufferings of Christ, you cannot share in the glory of Christ.
Canon White: And we know that the present suffering is nothing to be compared with the glory that is to come. And we are sharing in the suffering now, but we also going to share in the glory, as well.
Jim: Well, that's the sadness of this whole situation, that eternity paints a different picture. These people, these evil people that are killing children on this stage, in this present life, at some point they are gonna meet their Maker and that's the God we serve. And that's gonna be a terrifying moment for them, when they realize that they were wrong, terribly wrong. And for us living so far away, Canon White, it's hard to wake up every day. We feel helpless. We don't know how to engage in this crisis really. There's no simple way for us to do it. We can't come physically and help. What are some things that we can do practically that would be helpful to you?
Canon White: Well, we need people to remember that we're not far away. We're your brothers and your sisters. It's happening to "us," not "them," us. We are suffering together. We need your prayers. We need your love and we need your support.
Canon White: Without your support, we can't feed our people. We can't meet any … all day yesterday we spent buying cradles for the babies, because they had nowhere to sleep anymore. And we could only do that because Christians in the West, stood with their brothers and sisters in the East and helped us. Will you continue helping us? Because we are yours and you are ours and we need each other.
Jim: Canon White, this has been a very moving moment for us and we will do everything that we can to get the word out and to encourage people to do exactly what you've asked, to pray for you, to send our love, to support what you're doing there and what others are doing there through Christian Relief, etc. So, thank you so very much for taking time to be with us. May I burden you to pray for all of us at this time?
Canon White: Can I also pray partly in Aramaic, which is our language? We pray, worship every day in Aramaic, the language of our Lord.
Canon White: Lord Jesus, will You help us to stand with our brothers and sisters? Will You help us to stand with those who are family, who You have given us? Lord, we ask Your blessing upon us. And in Aramaic, I pray [Praying in Aramaic]. Amen.
Jim: Thank you. Thank you for all that you're doing and we will be praying and helping in every way we can. God bless you.
Canon White: Amen. Thank you brothers and sisters.
End of Phone Call
Jim: John, my heart breaks for what we're hearing here. I cannot believe that in 2014 we're dealing with this kind of genocide and this kind of religious persecution. It's unbelievable.
John: It's pure evil when you see what's going on there and it's just heightened by the fact that our brothers and sisters, as we heard from Canon White, they're being broken physically and emotionally. But it sounds like spiritually they are hanging on to God.
Jim: Well, and like he said, it should be such an encouragement to us that they can hang onto their faith in Christ, even with the threat of death literally every day.
John: Now I said earlier, this is a complex part of the world. This is a difficult topic, Jim for all of us to deal with. It's especially hard for parents. My son was very uncomfortable in Sunday school when a teacher brought up the subject of the persecutions going on right now. If you're having trouble explaining this to your children, we really are called to help them understand at age-appropriate levels. We've got a pdf that you can look at. You'll find it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. It's designed to help parents explain these kinds of things to children in a way that will not scare them, but equip them to deal with the uncertainties of life. Again, that's at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: John, it is an important thing. I know, Trent and Troy are asking questions as we're watching the news, saying why do people want to kill Christians? I don't understand that. This will help you explain it to your children. So, do download that pdf.
Jim: We want to turn now to someone in Erbil, who is right on the ground there, who can give us a firsthand account of what's happening right now. Her name is Sister Diana Momeka and Diana, it is wonderful to have you. We're so sorry for what you're experiencing. What's happening there in Erbil?
Sister Diana: Well, what we are experiencing really … and I am at one of the centers that I am volunteering to help my own people, is that we have four to 6,000 displaced families that some of them are living in the tents. They have small camps that we made for them. Some are sleeping under the trees. Others are sleeping on the park. So, you can say most of the Christian gathering that was in Mosul and other Christian towns, they scattered either in Erbil north of Iraq and on Dohuk and other towns that they are on the north.
Jim: Diana, let me ask you, what kind of atrocities are actually taking place there?
Sister Diana: The first simple thing is, they can't tolerate the heat, so happening for them now, we have some other cases of diseases that we can't tolerate, you know. They're sleeping under the sun. It's one of the hard issues and some families, you know, they are running out of their financials and this is out of their suffering, they don't know what to do.
Jim: Diana, the families that are coming into Erbil and other places where they are gathering to find some relief from the evil that ISIS is perpetrating on these people, what are some of those stories coming from these people as they are coming in on foot, family members that have been killed and tortured and other things? Give us some dimension of what that has been like. What is happening there to the people when they encounter ISIS?
Sister Diana: For us as we fled our towns, we fled in the middle of night, so what we know that they are in our homes. They have been looting our homes and the hard thing for people that they are facing now is, during the time that we fled, it was the distance of one hour. It took us 12 and 13 hours to get to Erbil. So, imagine people without food, without water. And we have about eight death situation, cases, at least four children and three women. And what happened was, some shooting happened on the road. We didn't know what it was, but we lost two people through that shooting.
Jim: So, this is just again, the evil that's being perpetrated on you, because you're Christian and for what you believe.
Sister Diana: Yes.
Jim: Our hearts are so heavy for you and our prayers are with you and we're gonna do everything we can to make people aware of the situation and also to try to get help to that part of the world. So, thank you for the time to be with us and for describing what it is you're going through. Thank you so very much.
Sister Diana: May I say something before you leave? I need to say, please, please, let compassion of the world move. There are people suffering, not only Christian and other minorities. They are under horrible conditions, that they are not humanitarian at all. So, please, please if you can help, through any way, please do. Just let your passion move, please. That's my message to all of you. Thank you.
Jim: Thank you, Diana and we will definitely be praying for you and doing all we can to help from the United States.
End of Phone Call
Jim: You know, as Diana mentioned there, not only Christians are being killed, but really anybody that is essentially not Muslim. If you are not kind of in their tribe, they're not gonna tolerate you. And therefore, these atrocities are occurring.
And a lot of people won't know this, John, but you know, Focus on the Family works through offices around the world and we have an office right there in Cairo, Egypt. And we have been doing many things through that effort there and some wonderful Christian brothers and sisters that work there.
And one of the things that they'd like to do is be that conduit to help provide food and water right there at the point of need in the Middle East to address this issue. If you feel led to support that effort, know that we can take those dollars and send them along to Focus on the Family Egypt and they will diligently and in a trustworthy way, make sure that, that money is used to go directly to the needs of the people there. So, if you would like to support Focus on the Family and Focus on the Family Middle East, donate today and we will see to it that those dollars are used appropriately.
John: Yeah, you can donate on the phone, 800-A-FAMILY or through the mail; send a check to Focus on the Family, 8605 Explorer Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920. Now we have several articles at that website about persecution of Christians and as we mentioned earlier, a very important article that you can download about discussing this topic with your children in age-appropriate ways. So, if you need some parenting help with this, know that we're here and we've got an article there at the website.
Jim: We spoke earlier this week with Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia. He has been such a stalwart on this topic of religious liberty and he has talked about what it means for the global Christian community, this kind of persecution. And I talked to him just a few days ago and I wanted you to hear his comments, as well. So, let's listen to that discussion.
Jim: Congressman Wolf, you have been tireless in your efforts to defend religious freedom around the world for years and particularly, in the last couple of months. I think you've brought to the floor several times this issue of what's happening in Iraq. Tell me what's grabbing your attention? Why does it get your attention? And what are you concerned about?
Frank: It just seems that Christians sort of are fair game now in this current environment that we're in. And nobody appears to be coming to the defense of the Christian community. Christianity and Christians, people who follow Jesus, have been in the leaders of advocating for other people. I mean, quite frankly, it was Christianity, leaders in the United States [who] spoke out against segregation. Christian leaders spoke out against slavery, William Wilberforce, who was a Christian member of the Parliament. So it's very difficult to explain to a Christian in the Middle East why people of faith and why the people in the West have not advocated for them.
I spoke to a lady today. She said, "You in the West did so much to help people that were impacted with the tsunami. Why will you not come and help us?" And I think history's gonna have to judge why the West has been so slow to move it up. It could be that maybe news stations have cut back on foreign correspondents. And I appreciate you doing the story, maybe as you tell this story, maybe as others will begin to see the interest change. But as of now, there's been a silence on the part of the West.
Jim: What is it we can do? Do you have any idea of what we can do to ignite the interest of people who can change policy?
Frank: One, you can educate. You can force people to focus. Secondly, you can adopt people, families and regions. Thirdly, you can pray for them. Fourthly, you can write your congressman and senators, not that many members are really kinda speakin' out. Fifthly, you can advocate with regard to the White House.
Because the lady I spoke to on the phone, they said there's very little water and very little food. They're livin' in tents. There is a lot that can be done to deal with the issue, but it's really gonna take the mobilization and I think in all fairness, the Christian community has to speak out for itself. You've heard the old expression; "charity begins at home." If we who are believers, are not willing to advocate for the Christian community and we should advocate for the Buddhists who are being persecuted in Tibet. We should advocate for the Ahmadi Muslims who are being persecuted in Pakistan. We should advocate for anyone who's being persecuted, but we certainly should advocate for our own people. And if we do not, we will be judged very harshly.
Jim: Well, I couldn't agree with you more, Congressman. Let me ask you this question. You helped to get passed a Resolution 683, which really did kind of focus on this Middle East issue. It was unanimous from what I understand. I mean, nothing in Congress is typically unanimous, so there seemed to be a lot of agreement that the persecution of a people group, whether it be Christians or anyone else, should not be neglected and that, that is what our country has stood for, for all these centuries and for us to turn a blind eye to these suffering people just seems antithetical to what it is we believe as Americans.
Frank: I agree, but for some reason, this has not resonated the way that we have seen circumstances in the past. What is taking place in Erbil, what is taking place in Iraq is genocide. It meets the legal definition. It is also what they call "crimes against humanity." The U.N. should be debating this, bringing this up. And for some reason, up until the last two weeks, there was silence, just silence.
And that's why those of us who care, wherever we see things like this taking place, we should speak out. I think it was Martin Luther King who said, "The silence of our enemies is expected, but the silence of our friends is very troubling." And there's been silence on the part of the faith community and others and in ... in the West. So, if there's not the willingness [to] speak out, these things continue to grow.
Jim: Well, Congressman Wolf, you again, have fought tirelessly to defend religious liberty with all your years in Congress and we so deeply appreciate it. Thank you for once again, bringing this to the forefront, for really holding our country's leadership responsible for responding and for spearheading a response from the U.S. Congress. Thank you for your efforts.
Frank: Well, Jim, I want to thank you and I want to thank people who support you to help Focus, because you have really made a big difference, so thank you very much.
End of Phone Call
Jim: Again, that was a conversation I had with Congressman Frank Wolf just the other day, as we were discussing this issue of religious persecution in the Middle East and around the world. I know many of you are moved to want to help. I am and I know Jean will be, as well. I'll give you some details in just a few minutes about how we can together step in the gap and help these hurting people directly.
One other thing, John. In an earlier phone call that we had with Canon White, we asked him how can we pray and he gave us three P's. I want you to hear in his words how he described it.
Rev. Canon Andrew White: What I say we need is prayer for three P's. We need protection, that the Lord will see to that, so He protects us from the enemy, that we will receive provision, so that we can provide for our people and finally, that we may persevere.
End of Excerpt
Jim: You heard it right there from Canon White. He specifically asked for three things when we pray: for protection, for provision and for perseverance. We certainly can provide provision and even though the summer has been tough here at Focus on the Family and we're behind in our budget, I cannot in good conscience not ask all of us to think about that and maybe do a little extra here. And our office in the Middle East, right there in Cairo--Focus on the Family Egypt--is prepared to provide food and medicine and fuel and tents, kind of the basics that our Christian brothers and sisters need right now.
And I would like to invite you to be there in the name of Christ for these people. Let's do it together. Let's be the hands and feet of Jesus in the Middle East. And I would like to ask you to support us today in that effort.
John: Well, we do hope that you can contribute perhaps a little extra to help out in this way. You can donate when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. That's 800-A-FAMILY. Or mail a check, 8605 Explorer Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920.
Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thank you for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back on Monday. We'll have trusted advice to help you and your family thrive.
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Andrew WhiteView Bio
The Rev. Canon Andrew White is the chaplain of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, Iraq. He is also the president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. Canon Andrew travels extensively throughout the United Kingdom and North America to speak and preach. He has authored several books including Faith Under Fire and Suffer the Children. Canon Andrew and his wife, Caroline, have two sons.
Diana MomekaView Bio
Frank WolfView Bio
Frank Wolf is a retired U.S. Congressman who represented Virginia's 10th congressional district for 17 terms (1981-2014). He continues to co-chair the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan group working to raise awareness of international human rights issues. During his congressional tenure, Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act and continues to fight for religious liberty around the world as Distinguished Senior Fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. Wolf and his wife, Carolyn, reside in Virginia and have five adult children.