Thursday, July 2, 2015

Assyria Day 2015: 'After Saturday Comes Sunday'


The Following address entitled, “After Saturday Comes Sunday” (Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad) was delivered in Sydney, Australia, on Assyria Day 28 June 2015.

Organised by Sydney’s “Young Assyrians”, the theme of this year's national Assyria Day Conference was the Assyrian nation’s demand for an Autonomous Administrative Region in the historic Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plains, northern Iraq. For more details see: Assyrian Universal Alliance

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“After Saturday Comes Sunday”
Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad

Assyria Day, 28 June 2015.
Elizabeth Kendal


There is a popular Arabic war cry which never fails to make the blood of Middle Eastern Christian run cold. Whether Muslims are spray-painting it on walls, whispering it in ears or chanting it in the streets, “After Saturday comes Sunday” (Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad”) is issued as a threat – a warning to Christians – that after the Muslims have dealt with the Jews (who worship on Saturday), then they will deal with the Christians (who worship on Sunday).

It should be clear by now that this is no idle threat.

What I would like to do on this Assyria Day, is look at
(1) how this threat has been playing out in Iraq;
(2) how this threat has been playing out in Syria.|
 THEN
(3) I will look at the overall geo-political situation in the Middle East; and
 LASTLY
(4) we will turn our attention to the Cross of Jesus Christ; and there, at the Cross, we will turn that threat on its head.

IRAQ

In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem, carrying much of the Judean population into exile in Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans. While some Jews returned to Judea with Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah seventy years later, and set about rebuilding the nation, others remained in Mesopotamia where they had put down roots, assimilated and grown comfortable.

In 1906 an Ottoman census counted 256,000 Jews in the Ottoman vilayets (provinces) of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul (which together comprise modern-day Iraq).

Incited by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini, Arab anti-Semitism escalated through the 1920s – 30s – and 40s. Violent persecution escalated and by 1949, half the Jewish community had left.

In his book, ‘Banking on Baghdad,’ journalist and author Edwin Black writes: “An estimated 130,000 Jews lived in the Iraq of 1949, half of whom resided in Baghdad.  The Baghdad Chamber of Commerce listed 2,430 member companies. A third were Jewish . . . Jewish firms transacted 45 percent of the exports and nearly 75 percent of the imports. A quarter of all Iraqi Jews worked in transportation, such as railways and port administration. . .’ As Black makes clear – Iraq’s economy was largely dependent on Jews.

The anti-Jewish pogroms reached their peak in the early 1950s. Black writes, “Between January 1950 and December 1951, Israel airlifted, bussed, or otherwise smuggled out 119,788 Iraqi Jews – all but a few thousands. Within those two years, Iraq – to its national detriment – had excised one of its most commercially, industrially, and intellectually viable groups, a group that for 2,600 years had loyally seen the three provinces of Mesopotamia as their chosen place on earth.”

By 2004 only 35 Jews remained in Iraq; by 2008 there were ten, with eight of those living in Baghdad under the care of the Rev. Canon Andrew White (pictured) who described their situation as “more than desperate.”

There was alarm in 2011, after WikiLeaks published diplomatic Cables that identified Iraq’s last seven Jews. In October 2014, Rev Canon Andrew White was evacuated from Baghdad on the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury as his high profile made him an attractive target. Six Jews remained.

After Saturday comes Sunday

Long centred around its historic capital of Nineveh, the Assyrian nation is indigenous to Upper Mesopotamia. Tradition has it that the Assyrians began worshiping YWHW (Yahweh) the God of Israel after the prophet Jonah preached there sometime between 780-755 BC. Assyrians subsequently developed close ties with Jerusalem, and watched with interest as the scandal of Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the Christ (the Messiah) played out. When news arrived in Nineveh that Jesus had risen from the dead and had been seen by many before ascending to heaven, the Assyrians believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of whom the scriptures spoke. Once an imperialistic regional superpower, Assyria became a great missionary power, spreading the gospel through Persia, Central Asia and as far east as China.

Then, in the 7th C came Islam, and the result was subjugation. Then, in the 14th C came Timur (Timur the Lame / Tamerlane), and the result was total decimation. From the 7th C until today – Assyrian history has been marked by repression and persecution; replete with massacres and genocides.

Iraq’s last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million Assyrians. But as Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War One (1991), Christians with means emigrated.

By the time of the March 2003 US-led invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated to be between 800,000 and 1.2 million.

After the US occupation, sectarian killings, church bombings, ethnic-religious cleansing and targeted terrorism drove multitudes of Christians from their homes, especially from the provinces of Basra and Baghdad. Christians fled north, where they hunkered down in the ancient Assyrian heartland and homeland of the Nineveh Plain, mostly around the cities of Mosul, and Bakhdida / Qaraqosh.

But Nineveh was not secure. While the US “Surge” of 2007 did kill many al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists throughout the central provinces of Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala, many more had simply relocated north to Mosul, which subsequently became known as al-Qaeda’s base in Iraq.
From 2008, attacks against Mosul’s churches, assassinations of its Christian leaders and violent persecution of its Christian communities skyrocketed. Believers were extorted for jizya (protection money) and forced to submit to Sharia law.

Funeral after 31 Oct 2010
church massacre, Baghdad. 
By 2010, a remnant of around 400,000 Christians remained.

As persecution and threat escalated throughout the country, masses of Christians fled; with thousands finding refuge in Assad’s Syria. Those who remained suffered harassment and intimidation; not only from al-Qaeda, but from Muslim neighbours who supported the jihad.

The persecution went largely unremarked in mainstream media and political discourse, because attacks on Christians don’t pose a threat to the delicate and volatile sectarian situation in Baghdad, so they are generally deemed to be of no strategic significance.

In December 2011, as the last US troops prepared to withdraw thousands of Muslims emerged from Friday prayers across Nineveh to attack Christian communities – destroying businesses deemed “haram” (forbidden in Islam) [for example: licensed grocery stores].

David William Lazar of the American Mesopotamian Organization described the situation as “a big mess.” When asked who would be there to ensure the safety of Christians he answered, “Basically, no one.”

Long time Religious Liberty champion U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) commented: “The Iraqi Christians . . . are living in fear. Now with the forces leaving . . . I think the Iraqi Christians are going to go through a very, very difficult time.”

The Director of the Christian Defense Coalition expressed concern that unless the situation is addressed “the public expression of Christianity will be exterminated. America,” he said, “must realise, this horrible extermination of Christians is directly related to our failure in ensuring their safety. It is a tragedy that America's involvement in Iraq did not bring liberation for Christians but brutality, oppression and possible extinction. We cannot abandon them. We must do better.”

Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church gave voice to the pervasive fear, that if the persecution continues with such intensity, “Iraq could be emptied of Christians”.

[Those quotes are all available on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 138: “Propaganda versus Reality” (13 Dec 2011).]

In Australia, the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) published an open letter to the Prime Minister, appealing for help from the Australian government. Written by Hermiz Shahen, and dated 12 December 2011 (same day Obama and al-Makili met in Washington to congratulate themselves for having defeated al-Qaeda and created a model democracy) the letter included this grave warning:

“The slow genocide of the indigenous Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs, in Iraq now sits at the tipping point of a relentless and inexorable genocide, leading to ethnic extinction.”

After detailing the destruction of churches, the targeted violent persecution of Christians and the desperate flight of more than 600,000 Assyrians since 2003, the AUA letter highlighted the saddest and most shameful aspect of all:

“Despite the scale of this human tragedy and the drastic displacement of the Assyrians, the International Community’s response has been almost non-existent and the displaced Assyrians have been left to their demise.” 

Yet again, the Assyrian nation has been betrayed and abandoned.

In March 2013 – on the 10-year anniversary of the US invasion – Canon Andrew White estimated that a mere 200,000 Christians remained in Iraq.

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham /Syria (ISIS: formerly ISI, subsequently IS) stormed into Nineveh Province, capturing its capital Mosul in a blitzkrieg. Some 1,000 Christian families fled for their lives.

AINA
On Friday 18 July 2014, ISIS (now IS) issued an ultimatum. Christians would have until midday of the next day to either convert to Islam, submit as dhimmis (subjugated, second-class citizens without rights) and pay the jizya (protection money) – otherwise they would “face the sword”.

This was no idle threat; ISIS had already marked the homes of the last remaining Christians with a large red Arabic letter “n” (pronounced noon) for “Nasrani (i.e. Christian – one who follows the Nazarene) and acquired their homes as “property of the Islamic State”.

By the end of the day, all but the most infirm and disabled Christians were departing. Forced to forfeit their homes, they were then met at checkpoints on the roads out of the city by ISIS militants who robbed them of their cash, gold, jewelry and passports – everything but the clothes on their backs.

Patriarch Louis Sako lamented: “Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Irbil. For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

Then on 6 August 2014, IS forces overran Bakhdida / Qaraqosh.

Patriarch Louis Sako, issued a statement in which he warned that Iraqi Christians “are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide”.

Lamenting that all the churches from Mosul to the border of Iraqi Kurdistan were now deserted and desecrated, he added, “The level of disaster is extreme.”

SYRIA

As in Iraq, Judaism has been in Syria for millennia.

In Syria, as in Iraq, violent Arab anti-Semitism escalated through the 1920s – and 30s and 40s – and violent attacks on Jews became commonplace.

In 1947, Syria was home to some 40,000 Jews. After the United Nations voted in November 1947 to partition Palestine, Arab mobs rioted in Aleppo, attacking and devastating the 2,500-year-old Jewish community. Scores of Jews were killed and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews fled Syria for refuge in Israel.

After Israel declared independence May 1948, another wave of violence erupted. Syrian Jews were beaten and killed while their homes were looted and burned. Jewish institutions were closed, holy books were burned, businesses were boycotted and properties were seized. Jews were left destitute.

To prevent Syria’s Jews escaping to Israel where they could strengthen the Israeli state and even become Israeli soldiers, Syria shut the doors, officially prohibiting Jewish emigration. However, that period was so chaotic and the Syrian regime so unstable, Jews continued to escape illegally into Lebanon and Turkey.

By the time the borders were sealed shut in 1958, only around 5,000 Jews remained – approximately 3,000 in Damascus, 1,500 in Aleppo, and another 500 or so in the town of Qamishli, (in the north-east, near the northern Syrian border with Turkey). Regulations were repressive and persecution was severe.

In 1967, Arabs lost the Six Day War, and in Syria local Jews paid the price – targeted with wholesale vigilante and state terror. Ultimately the only way to survive was to pay an exorbitant jizya; but even then, security was tenuous.

It was during that time that Canadian Jewish couple Rubin and Judy Feld took up the cause of Syrian Jewry. By late 1972, the Felds were in regular communication with a Rabbi in Damascus. When Rubin Feld (40) died of heart attack in June 1973, Judy devoted herself to the work of facilitating the rescue of Syrian Jews. Her first rescue was of a rabbi from Aleppo – 1977.

In April 1992, the Syrian government lifted the travel ban and the New York Syrian Jewish community organised a rescue operation through which several Jews were secretly airlifted out of Syria.

Judy Feld-Carr continued rescuing Syrian Jews until September 2001; her mission only ended because all the Jews who wanted to leave had left. By that time she had facilitated the rescue of 3,228 Syrian Jews.

In September 2013, as war raged in Syria, Sam Sokol reported for the Jerusalem Post that Syria’s remnant Jews – numbering about fifty – were hunkered down in central Damascus under the protection of President Bashar al-Assad. “The average age there is around 45 or 50” he said. “There are no more youths under that age to my knowledge. No youths, no children.” In other words, the end of the Jewish existence in Syria was in sight, all but guaranteed.

By 2014 there were as few as eleven Syrian Jews left in Syria. These were Jews who had chosen to stay and die in their homeland.

After Saturday comes Sunday

As in Iraq, Christianity, has been in Syria for some 2000 years – in fact it was in Antioch in Syria that the “disciples” (followers of Jesus) were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

Church choir, Damascus 2011.
Through 2011-12, northern Syria filled with jihadists who flooded over the Turkish border. In 2012 the Syrian Arab Army was withdrawn from the North-East so it could be concentrated in the north-south Damascus-Aleppo corridor, leaving the Kurds to fight the influx of jihadists.

On Thursday 17 January 2013, some 300 jihadists linked to al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra crossed the Turkish border with three tanks to fight the Kurds in Ras al-Ayn in NE Syria’s al-Hasakah governorate. No longer safe in Hasakah, Assyrian refugees from Iraq fled back into totally insecure neighouring Nineveh.

In March 2013, Al-Raqqa fell to rebel forces, becoming the first provincial capital fully under rebel control. Within months, the jihadists had split: with al-Nusra pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda central’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the young-guns of ISIS remaining loyal to al-Baghdadi.  As al-Nusra devoted itself to the battle for Aleppo, ISIS consolidated its power-base in al-Raqqa. 

After seizing Mosul (June 2014) and running a bulldozer through the Iraq-Syria border – declaring an end to Sykes-Picot – ISIS moved to expand into Syria’s Deir-ez-Zor (east) and Hassekeh (north east).

In February 2015, ISIS fighters raided the 35 Assyrian villages along the Khabour River Hassekah. Some 230 Assyrian civilians remain in ISIS captivity to this day.
Idlibs falls - March 2015.
No Syrian nationalists here.

In March 2015 – an al-Nusra-led jihadi alliance known as Jayesh al Fateh (Army of Conquest) – seized control of Idlib, making it the second Provincial Capital to fall under rebel control. Rebels celebrated by burning the Syrian flag.

In subsequent weeks Jayesh al Fateh not only consolidated in Idlib, but cut the strategic M4 HWY which links Latakia to Aleppo.

On 20 May 2015, ISIS captured Palmyra, abducted a priest from Qaryatayn and won a battle against Hamas in Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus just 8 km south of the CBD.  It seems that ISIS is actually being squeezed towards Damascus. Doubtless plans are afoot to cut the M5 HWY which links Damascus to Homs and the north.

Meanwhile in the north, the Battle or Aleppo is heating up, led by the militant/terrorist proxies of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The war will remain asymmetric (with the SAA as the stronger force) as long as the SAA controls the skies. This is why the rebels / jihadists / terrorists are calling for air support (preferably US air support).

The Syrian government is the last line of defense for Syria’s religious minorities, including Christians. Should the government fall, then genocide is all but guaranteed. After all, this is precisely what Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood promised in April 2011 when its followers took to the streets chanting, “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave.”

That regime-changers Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia find that acceptable is unsurprising. That the US and the West might regard it as a price it is willing to pay, is flabbergasting.

These are pivotal days in Syria.

The Overall Geo-Political Situation in the Middle East

“In the end,” wrote former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “peace can be achieved only by hegemony or by balance of power.”

Well -- not only has a century of Western hegemony come to an end, but so too has the balance of power dynamic that existed through much of the 20th century – largely through Sykes-Picot (which kept the Arabs divided), and the empowerment of minorities (Sunnis in Iraq and Alawites in Syria). As hegemony has crashed and the balance of power has been overturned - the region has dissolved into chaos.

Rushing to fill the power vacuum are the region’s three historic imperialistic powers: the Persians, the Arabs, and the neo-Ottoman Turks. Also in a struggle for hegemony are the region’s two main Islamic sects, Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Complicating matters – we also have two political axis: the US-aligned Turkey-Arab-Sunni Axis (divided between pro-anti MB factions) and the Iran-led, Shi'ite dominated Axis of Resistance (which includes several Sunni 'resistance' groups such as Hamas).

This is what it looks like on the map.


The struggle will be furious for the stakes are high, for these groups are fighting not merely for hegemony over Mesopotamia, but over the whole Middle East and Muslims.

And as the old African proverb goes, “When Elephants fight – it’s the grass that suffers”. [Ndovu wawili wakisongana, ziumiazo ni nyika (Swahili)]

BUT Christians are far more than mere collateral damage, for they are being targeted. What’s more, they are being targeted not merely for subjugation and exploitation, but for elimination!

And unlike pre-WWI jihads, this 21stC jihad is not being fought with swords or even rifles, but with automatic firearms, tanks, US-made armor-piercing guided rockets, and by jihadists whose friends have chemical and nuclear weapons. This raises the stakes to a whole new level. Also raising the stakes is the jihadists’ ability to exploit mainstream media and communication technologies, especially social media, to propagandise and recruit on a global scale.

Geo-politically, the whole region is in flux. We have decades of turmoil ahead of us and it is not going to be pretty.

And lest we forget, the elimination of an entire ethnic-religious group is not without precedent; the Arab states have already been “cleansed” of Jews. Fortunately the Jews had a safe-haven – their ancestral homeland, Israel – which rescued them and absorbed them, giving them hope and a future.

It is possible that Christianity could be eliminated from the Middle East.

And the only thing necessary for this to be achieved is that we do nothing.

Let’s turn our attention to the Cross of Jesus Christ. 

Have you ever imagined how terrifyingly awful that crucifixion Friday must have been for those who had believed and invested so much in Jesus?


For the followers of Jesus, that Friday was the day when all their hopes, dreams and aspirations were violently, profoundly and humiliatingly dashed, smashed and obliterated. What were they to make of it? How could that weak, submissive, defenseless victim of injustice be the Messiah? That beaten, lacerated, bleeding and broken victim of savagery who just meekly submitted “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,” (Isaiah 53) – mocked, pierced (Psalm 22) how could he be Israel’s Saviour? What were Jesus’ followers to make of it?

Was Jesus a fraud or was he a madman? Had his followers been deceived, conned, led astray like fools? Would they now be laughed at or pitied as victims of a ridiculous scam? Or worse; had the Messiah indeed come and failed? Had the Christ been defeated? Had God’s eternal plan of redemption come unstuck? Had the world and devil triumphed over God’s anointed?

To make things worse, after Friday came Saturday. Yes, life would go on. Humiliation, confusion, darkness and profound emptiness, even anger seemed destined to continue without relief.  As far as Jesus’ followers could see, that Saturday was to be first day of the rest of their lives without Jesus.

And just as the deadly cross of Friday extinguished life, the deathly silence of Saturday devoured hope.  What were his faithful disciples to make of it? What were his followers to do? On Friday, before breathing his last, Jesus had declared, “It is finished.” On Saturday, as hopelessness reigned, Jesus’ followers must surely have thought: “It is finished indeed!”

But it wasn’t – was it?   . . . because ‘After Saturday came Sunday’ and what happened on Sunday changed everything – so much so that history revolves around it.

Caravaggio
We even see it in the Old Testament prophetic texts – Isaiah 52:13 to 54:3 and Psalm 22 – which start with the horrific crucifixion and death of the Lamb of God – but then everything changes – and salvation flows to the ends of the earth thereby fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

Blessed through the sacrifice of the Christ? Who’d have thought it? God – whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) – he thought it.

The Cross (Friday through Sunday; crucifixion, grave, resurrection) is more than an event and even more than atonement. The Cross is revelation: that is it reveals something to us of how God works.

God does not sit on his comfortable heavenly throne firing rocket at his enemies. While he is indeed a super-power, that is not his way. Rather God comes and enters hostile territory himself, not only to subvert evil -- defeating it from within, as he did with sin and death -- but to work it for good in fulfillment of promise.

Theologian, Professor Carl R. Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary, notes: “If the cross of Christ, the most evil act in human history [crime for which all who have ever sinned are guilty], can be in line with God’s will and be the source of the decisive defeat of the very evil that caused it, then any other evil can also be subverted to the cause of good.

“Indeed, if God can take the greatest of evils and turn it to the greatest of goods, then how much more can he take the lesser evils which litter human history, from individual tragedies to international disasters, and turn them to his good purpose as well.”

Precisely because after Saturday (the day of the grave) comes Sunday (the day of resurrection and vindication), the Church can look directly into any crisis with realism and honesty, and call it what it is – horrific, evil, wicked – and still find God at work amidst the suffering.

As “The Nation of the Cross” (as ISIS likes to call us), we know that because God works through affliction, appearances can be deceptive. As 'the Nation of the Cross', we know that even in the midst of darkness and confusion, when God seems absent and all seems hopeless and we can barely see through our tears or breathe through our grief; even when it appears that the “world” has won and the devil reigns supreme, God is at work -- just as he was on that first Easter. God is busy subverting evil, redeeming it as blessing in fulfillment of promise.

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
(William Cowper, 18thC)

So, just because Muslims deliver “After Saturday comes Sunday,” (Arabic: Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad) to Christians as a threat, doesn’t mean Christians have to receive it that way.

For when Christians feed Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad through a theology of the Cross something wonderful happens --- the threat gets lost in translation.

Sunday is up on us alright – and it is not the Sunday those Muslims are dreaming of.

I’d like to conclude – with a little story that I find incredibly moving.

One Sunday in Tel Isqof 

Tel Isqof is an Assyrian village in the north of the Nineveh Plains. On 7 August 2014, Islamic State jihadists seized Tel Isqof sending some 7,000 Assyrian Christians fleeing for their lives.
Kurdish pershmerga launched a counter offensive and by 17 August had driven the jihadists back.  Though Tel Isqof had been liberated (and looted) it was far too dangerous to return to as Islamic State fighters still controlled the surrounds, and routinely attempted forays into the town.

On Sunday 9 November 2014, something happened in Tel Isqof that was certainly symbolic and possibly even prophetic. Fr. Paul Thabit Mekko, a displaced Assyrian priest holed up in Arbil, tells what happened:
Tel Isqof, Sunday 9 Nov 2014.
The Cross rises over Nineveh.

“A group of young men, now refugees in Kurdistan, wanted to go there [to Tel Isqof] with a priest for a few hours, with the intent to open the church, ring the bells and celebrate mass. After the liturgy they returned to the north, to the places where they are currently living as refugees. It was a way of saying that we do not abandon our lands, and we hope to return to our homes and our churches soon.” 

I would like to say that, just as ISIS silenced the bells and removed the cross in order to make a statement (Christianity is finished – dead and buried), those young Assyrian Christian men rang the bells and restored the cross to its rightful place atop the dome of the church overlooking the Nineveh Plain in order to make a statement of their own – a statement of faith.

It might seem like Easter Saturday – a day of fear, grief, hopelessness – but Sunday (resurrection, vindication) is coming. I have no doubt that God has preserved an Assyrian remnant precisely because he intends to restore them to their lands, in what will be a reverse exodus. For God has promised:

 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”
(Isaiah 19: 23-24 ESV)

When I speak to Western/Anglo churches about this, I ask them, “Do you want to be part of this great work of God?” And when they say yes, I say, “Then die to self and follow Christ there.”

Some Christians and churches say, “Oh but this is so unprecedented”, as if that is an excuse for disengagement. But this persecution is not unprecedented -- it has been going on since the birth of the Church. And who better to testify to that than the Assyrian nation?

What is unprecedented however – thanks to the development of information and communication technologies – is the ability of the Church to be globally aware and globally connected – so that any church today can be aware of suffering on the other side of the world, even as it unfolds – and respond immediately – for the saving of many lives.

These are days of unprecedented opportunity for the Church to truly demonstrate what it means to be One Body in Christ – a holy nation – a people (as we are described in 1 Peter 2:9). This is the day for active engagement in faith.

And to you – my dear Assyrian brothers and sisters – I say: fix your eyes upon Jesus – and remember the CROSS! Never give up, never lose hope. He is faithful who promised.

AND whenever anyone tries to terrorise you with Ba'd as-sabt biji yom al-ahad -  “After Saturday comes Sunday” -- remember God’s Easter paradigm and say, “Yes! After Saturday comes Sunday indeed!”

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Elizabeth Kendal is currently writing a book under the working title: “After Saturday Comes Sunday”: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East. The above Assyria Day message draws largely on material from chapters one and ten of that work.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 

She also writes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB), to facilitate strategic prayer for the persecuted Church.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WHY WE MUST be 'Reaching Muslims' with the Gospel

by Elizabeth Kendal

On Tuesday 13 Jan 2015, I was privileged to be able to address the “Reaching Muslims” stream at the Church Missionary Society’s annual “Summer Under the Son” conference in Melbourne, Australia. The title given to my session was: “Reaching Muslims: Love Your Enemies”.

As an introduction, I was interviewed for about 15 minutes, which gave me the opportunity to explain my ministry as a religious liberty analyst and prayer advocate, my particular interest in Islam, while noting that while the HOW TO of Reaching Muslims is not my area of expertise, I am certainly very passionate about WHY WE MUST!

Having studied Islam seriously over many years in order to understand the phenomenon of Islamic persecution of Christians, it has become very clear to me that it is just as Jesus said in John 16:2 – “behold the day is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering service to God.” Significantly, Jesus immediately followed up his warning with an explanation: “They do this because they do not know the Father or Me” (John 16:3). So while mission might produce persecution / backlash in the short term, it is also the only solution to the problem of persecution in the long term.

I noted that only 1-2% of missionaries are focused on reaching Muslims – a sad statistic which led missionary Samuel Zwemer (1862 – 1952) (also known as the Apostle to Islam) to lament: “One might suppose the Church thought the Great Commission didn’t apply to Muslims.”

As a people saved by grace through faith, we should know that even though the battle is at the gate (see Isaiah 28:5-6) the promises of God assure us that the situation is never hopeless – actually, it is the opposite of hopeless. For as my book “Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today”  makes clear, “by grace through faith” is not merely God’s paradigm for personal salvation, it is God’s paradigm for everything. And today, in the midst of escalating conflict and persecution, God the great Savior and Redeemer is on the move.

After the interview I presented two 25-30 minute talks – the first covering the problem of persecution, and the second looking at threats to mission –with 10 minutes of Q&A after each.

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The following article is a compilation of those two talks minus all the stories and testimonies.

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WHY WE MUST
       be Reaching Muslims with the Gospel


Elizabeth Kendal  www.ElizabethKendal.com 22 January 2015
words: 4,053

People who have not experienced domestic violence or abuse, generally can’t understand why women who suffer it cling desperately to the idea that everything and everyone BUT their husband is to blame; or why children who are abused cling desperately to the idea that it simply has to be all their own fault.

The reason the victim refuses to blame the perpetrator is, because as soon as soon as they do – they lose control of the situation. If they accept that the other person has a problem, then they have to accept that they are trapped in a diabolical situation. That is terrifying.

This mindset of denial can be found among persecuted Christians who are struggling to survive in a tinderbox of anti-Christian hostility. A similar mindset of denial can also be found in the West among those who are very afraid, or those who hold utopian ideals, or those who simply don’t want confrontation.

These people will insist that the Islamic violence we are witnessing today is but an aberration caused by everything other than Islam (Britain’s fault, Israel’s fault, America’s fault, Assad’s fault -- blame it on the economy, blame it on a misinterpretation of Islam -- its our fault/due to our Islamophobia).

Others, meanwhile, will say that Islam is a problem precisely because it can so easily be read as mandating that non-Muslims be subjugated, persecuted and even killed -- and of course it has been read that way throughout its history. These people would say that the short era of relative peace we had through the middle of the 20th C was an aberration brought about by the fact that Islam was at its weakest point. This is my position.

I maintain that the escalation of Islamic persecution we are witnessing in the world corresponds directly to the escalation of Islamic strength – something facilitated by the decline of Western civilization – a decline facilitated by the West’s rejection of its own Christian foundations/roots.

I also maintain that a refutation of Islam does not imply hatred of Muslims. Muslims find this impossible to understand – in fact they generally reject it – but that is only because they have little concept of grace. Muhammad never said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.  But Jesus did.  As disciples of Jesus who have been saved by grace Christians can and must extend grace to Muslims while hating the ideology that leads to death and brings immense suffering to the Body of Christ.

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A lot of people today are lamenting the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Asia as “unprecedented” – but the fact is – while this Islamic persecution might be unprecedented in our lifetime – it is not unprecedented; none of it is new – and that’s because the Islam texts are rich with anti-Christian polemical material.

This persecution existed before America invaded the Middle East, before the recent Islamic revival, before the creation of the State of Israel, before WWI. There is a problem with Islam – and we need to talk about it – no matter how unsettling – because this problem with Islam manifests as serious persecution of the Church.

'Chibok girls'
The sex-slavery and trafficking of Christian children practiced by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria, by Arab slavers in Sudan (with the sanction of the regime in Khartoum), by IS in its Caliphate in Upper Mesopotamia – is nothing new.

Historian Bat Ye’or writes concerning the Arab conquest of Ephesus in A.D. 781, “7000 Greeks were deported into captivity”; and concerning the Arab conquest of Thessaloniki in A.D. 903, “22,000 Christians were shared between the Arab chiefs or sold into slavery”.

The Turks were no better – Historian Orlando Figes writes that in 1822, when the Turks put down a Greek uprising on the Island of Chios, some 20,000 Greeks were hanged while the remaining population, some 70,000 Greeks, were deported into slavery. Even in the decades before WWI, as Britain was pressing for reforms, the Turks were still kidnapping European children – Russians, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks – for sale in the slave markets of Constantinople/Istanbul.

In issue 4 of DABIQ (the magazine of IS), there is a lengthy theological treatise on slavery. The article, entitled “The return of slavery before the hour”, sights Quranic texts and hadiths, the example of Muhammad (who himself took Christian girls as war booty and had sex with them), and the teachings of leading Islamic scholars to come to the conclusion that the historic Islamic practice of slavery (specifically sex slavery) is not only good for reducing sexual impropriety, but it is totally legitimate in Islam to the extent that any Muslim who objects could be deemed an apostate.

It is simply the case that Islamic slavery was forced out of existence at a time when Islam was weak, now it is being resurrected in situations where Islam is strong.

The subjugation of Christians as dhimmis (second-class citizens) – a status that sees them denied virtually all their basic human rights – is nothing new.

This practice, that is becoming systematic, even official policy in places where Islam is strong has been linked to Islamic imperialist expansion throughout the history of Islam. Muslims invaded, lands were conquered, and Sharia Law (Islamic law) was established – not just for Muslims, but for the administration of the conquered peoples.

As dhimmis (subjugated, second-class citizens under Sharia), Christians have no legal rights: they can’t testify against a Muslim in court, which makes them easy pickings for criminals. As dhimmis, Christians have no religious rights: they can’t repair churches as the churches, like the Christians themselves, must appear unattractive, uninviting and in decline. Neither can Christians ring church bells or display any public expression of Christianity.

Al-Raqqa, Syria, March 2013
As dhimmis, Christians can also be forced to pay jizya (protection money/tribute, as mandated by the Quran, Sura 9:29: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.” All this is to prevent fitna (temptation or trial). For nothing tempts a Muslim to doubt their faith as much as the sight of a thriving/successful Christian.

It is simply the case that dhimmitude and jizya were forced out of existence at a time when Islam was weak, now they are being resurrected in situations where Islam is strong.

The persecution of Christians by local Muslims – their neighbours and work colleagues – persecution in the form of violent pogroms in which local radicalised Muslims turn on their Christian neighbours and colleagues – people with whom they had once lived and had worked with side by side – are on the increase. Everywhere Islam is strong, Islamic norms are being mandated and Sharia is being enforced: the blasphemer must die. This is why young Christian couple Shahbaz Maseeh (32) and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi (28) were beaten and burned alive in Pakistan on 4 November [2014]. This why the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were assassinated in Paris just last week [7 Jan 2015].

This too is nothing new! Islamic history is replete with brutal killings that have shattered families, and massacres that have totally decimated Christian communities – killings and massacres triggered often by nothing more than a petition for equality or justice (rights denied to dhimmis), or even just a rumour of blasphemy.

Unprecedented in our lifetime – yes! – BUT not unprecedented!  

People tend to forget that for a long time – a thousand years actually – Islam was the strongest force on the planet both militarily and culturally.

Over the course of a millennium, Muslim Empires – first the Arabs and then the Turks – conquered and devoured three quarters of the Christian world.

spread of Islam

We (Protestants) have paid little attention to this, presumably because Protestants were not greatly affected by the advance of Islam; rather it was those “other” Christians, particularly those of the Eastern Church.

Our indifference is pretty sad and shameful when you consider that the Eastern Church was the beating heart of the early church. The first denomination ever established was the Assyrian Church of the East, founded in the first century AD in Edessa (now Sanliurfa in Sth Turkey – just 140km due north of Raqqa – the current capital of IS) with the first Metropolitan See being established in Baghdad. It was from the East that the Gospel travelled west into Europe, south in Africa and east through Persia into China and India. And yet Protestants have had little awareness – dare I say even, little care – for the massive trauma suffered by those “other” Christians – fellow believers who have been persecuted almost out of existence.

Crusade historian Thomas F. Madden writes:
“When we think about the Middle Ages, it is easy to view Europe in light of what it became rather than what it was. The colossus of the medieval world was Islam, not Christendom. The Crusades are interesting largely because they were an attempt to counter that trend. But in five centuries of crusading, it was only the First Crusade that significantly rolled back the military progress of Islam. It was downhill from there.
Sultan Mehmed II
enters Constantinople,
29 May 1453

“. . . By the 15th century, the Crusades were no longer errands of mercy for a distant people but desperate attempts of one of the last remnants of Christendom to survive. Europeans began to ponder the real possibility that Islam would finally achieve its aim of conquering the entire Christian world.

“. . . Of course, that is not what happened,” writes Madden. “But it very nearly did. In 1480, Sultan Mehmed II captured Otranto [in south-east Italy] as a beachhead for his invasion of Italy. Rome was evacuated. Yet the sultan died shortly thereafter, and his plan died with him. In 1529 [12 yrs after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle], Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Vienna. If not for a run of freak rainstorms that delayed his progress and forced him to leave behind much of his artillery, it is virtually certain that the Turks would have taken the city. Germany (which was in chaos) would have been at their mercy.”    

This sounds like divine intervention to me – from a God who was starting something incredible in Germany.

The defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 is generally regarded as the pivotal moment when, after a millennium of advance, Islam was finally stopped in its tracks. Islamic military and imperialist power subsequently began to fade and crumble beneath the expanse of the empire, the corruption of the caliphate and the rising industrial, military, scientific, technological and economic ascendancy of post-Reformation Europe.

Thomas F Madden remarks:
link to lecture
“For a thousand years after the death of the prophet, Muslim armies had managed to conquer fully three-quarters of the old Christian world, despite the efforts of generations of Crusaders to halt or turn back this advance. An impartial observer at the time might well have concluded that Christendom was a doomed remnant of the ancient Roman Empire, destined to be supplanted by the more youthful, energetic religion and culture of Islam. Yet that observer would have been wrong. Within Europe, new ideas were brewing that would have dramatic and unprecedented repercussions not just in the Mediterranean, but across the entire world. 

“. . . By the 17th Century, European wealth and power was growing exponentially. Europeans were entering a new and utterly unprecedented age. It is one of the most remarkable events in history, I think, that the Christian West – an eternally divided region, seemingly on the brink of conquest by a powerful empire – suddenly burst forth with amazing new energy, neutralising its enemies and expanding across the globe. 

“The spectre of advancing Muslim armies, which for centuries had posed such a danger to the Christian West, no longer constituted a serious threat. Indeed as the gaze of Europeans now spanned new global horizons, they soon forgot that such a threat had existed at all. . .”

The reversal of fortunes culminated in the defeat of the German-allied Ottoman Turks in WWI, the subsequent break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the denial/betrayal of Arab aspirations, and the end of the Caliphate in 1924. Islam had been humiliated. It was a shattering blow to devout Muslims.

Thinking Islam was essentially in its death-throws and would expire as soon modernity caught up with it, the West – and the Church just ignored it.

BUT Islam promises its adherents success – something Muslims are reminded of five times a day as the call to prayer rings out: “Hasten to success; Hasten to success”.  So how were Muslims to interpret their defeat, failure and humiliation?

In the 18th C, as Europe’s and Islam’s fortunes were reversing, Arab Islamic reformers were agitating for Islamic Reformation – a return to “pure Islam” as found in the Quran and the life of Muhammad (as distinct from the corrupted, worldly Islam of the Ottoman Turks). The most famous of these Arab Islamic Reformers was Mohammed Ibn Abdel Wahhab who maintained that only a return to pure Islam could guarantee Islamic success.

Eventually, the work and teachings of al-Wahhab and numerous other subsequent Islamic reformers converged with the short-comings and failures of socialism, nationalism and despotism to produce the Islamic Revolutions of 1979.

Most people are aware of the successful Islamic revolution in Iran (February 1979) – but not so familiar with the attempted Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia (November 1979) – which, though it failed to oust the Saudi monarchy, actually worked to empower the Wahhabi clerical establishment which went on to Wahhabise Muslims and disseminate intolerant, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, pro-jihad, pro-Sharia fundamentalist Islam worldwide.

The escalating conflict and persecution we are seeing today is the result of Islamic reformation and revival – in particular 35 yrs of intensive global radicalisation of Muslims. Thirty-five years! That’s a whole generation that has risen up profoundly influenced by reformed, Wahhabi/Salafi – pure early Islam – the Islam that had success.

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Surf life-savers, Sydney

We all recognise that we must be Reaching Muslims with the Gospel because Muslims are precious; they are human beings created by God in the image of God for relationship with God. Muslim individuals and families can be greatly blessed by God’s wisdom, and saved by his grace.

But that is not the only reason we must be Reaching Muslims with the Gospel.
Pleading for help!
Bishop Elnail of Kadugli,
Nuba Mountains, Sudan

The victims of Islamic intolerance and persecution are precious too; for not only are they human beings created by God in the image of God for relationship with God – they are beloved children of God, our brothers and sisters, the Body of Christ.

Sadly, many persecuted Christian believe that we (Western evangelicals) don’t care about them. And that’s because during the latter part of the 20th C, evangelicals have increasingly come to put their trust/faith in politics. This has led to the resurrection of the failed policy of “quiet diplomacy” – a policy that brought nothing but shame to the World Council of Churches (WCC). In the 1960s-1970s the WCC betrayed thousands of Russian priests – faithful believers who were abandoned to the gallows and the gulag under a shroud of silence for the sake of “quiet diplomacy” with the Soviets, and Marxist-Christian dialogue. Today, it is the victims of Islamic persecution who are being abandoned, betrayed – they and their advocates are being told to “shut up!” – usually by evangelicals.

This denial of reality, this lack of empathy, has done great damage to the evangelical cause with the persecuted church – which increasingly views Western evangelicals as naive, unsympathetic, appeasers. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can love Muslims AND the Christian victims of Islamic persecution. It does not have to be one or the other. Loving Muslims does not necessitate we sweep persecuted Christians under the carpet as if they are a problem, an inconvenience or an embarrassment. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me [Jesus]" (Matthew 25:40).

We MUST be reaching Muslims with the Gospel – not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the persecuted Body of Christ – and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, so that they will not have to live with Islamic persecution.

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April 2013, secret baptism
in the Middle East:
228 Persians, 17 Afghans, 1 Pakistani
[This second talk opened with 15 mins of stories and testimonies from mission organisations, ministries and individuals, demonstrating how God is most certainly on the move among Muslims today.]

However . . . 

We are in a Spiritual battle and moves are afoot to reign in Christian witness – to have it recognised as an abuse of free speech, an abuse of human rights, an abuse of religious freedom – even to have it criminalised.

In August 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diène – presented his report on “the manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia . . .”

According to Diène  (a Senegalese Muslim), "defamation" of Islam arises out of "baseless Islamophobia" which expresses itself as "hatred of Muslims" which in turn gives rise to "extremism".
His conclusion: those who "defame" Islam [say bad things about Islam] must be held accountable for Islamic extremism [violence].

Special Rapporteur Diene also concluded that anti-Semitism is essentially political and is Israel's fault; and Christianophobia is caused by aggressive and "unethical" missionary activity – mostly by evangelical groups that "exploit freedom of expression" to defame religions.

[See: UNHCR: Watershed Days, By Elizabeth Kendal, 18 Sept 2007]

Do you see what he is saying? He is saying that when it comes to persecution, Muslims alone are innocent victims – for unlike Islamophobia (which is apparently baseless), anti-Semitism and Christianophobia are not baseless, but are valid responses from exploited and threatened peoples.

The UN Special Rapporteur concluded by recommending that our International Human Rights covenants be re-interpreted and amended – and that complementary standards be adopted to clarify the relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

The UN subsequently went on to pass Resolution 16/18 which fully supports freedom of speech and freedom of religion with the complimentary proviso that “defamation” [criticism] of religion be recognised as incitement – which according to the ICCPR article 20 must be prohibited by law. Anti-free speech campaigners will no doubt seek to exploit the Paris killings in exactly the same way that they exploited the Cartoon Intifada.

[See: UNHCR Res 16/18 - History of a Resolution’, by Elizabeth Kendal, 21 Aug 2011]

ALSO taking up that call for “complementary standards” was the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Evangelical Alliance.  

Motivated by the UN Special Rapporteur’s report, representatives from these bodies got together and, guided over the next five years by regular  inter-religious dialogue, produced a document entitled:
"Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World; Recommendations for Conduct." After its release on 28 June 2011, it quickly came to be known as the "Rules for Christian witness".

My response, entitled ‘Christian mission and persecution,
Why the new rules for Christian witness will not solve the problem of persecution,’ can be found on Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 July 2011

The "Rules for Christian Witness" affirm Christian humanitarian service, but with the complementary proviso that exploitation of situations of poverty and of vulnerable people has no place in Christian outreach.

Sounds good! Yet in reality the only way to avoid the charge of exploitation is to refrain from all Christian witness while serving the poor, hungry, sick, harassed and helpless.

And while it is fine to denounce the offering of allurements and rewards, one needs to understand that in un-free environments basic delivery of aid, health care, sanitation or education is considered allurement, and the offer of heaven is considered a fraudulent reward.

According to the rules, Christians must "reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness".

But India's Hindutva protagonists regard conversion as violence. The Iranian regime has deemed evangelical Christianity, cultural terrorism. Even Doudou Diene, the UN's Special Rapporteur, warned in his Aug 07 report that the "legitimate expression of ideas" could in reality be "ideological violence". 

Is it psychological violence to call someone a sinner? To say that they are “lost”; to warn them of judgment?

What is abuse of power in witness? Can a coach witness to an athlete? Can a teacher witness to a student? Can an employer witness to an employee?

I think it is very significant that “abuse of power” and “fraudulent conversion” (i.e. language straight out of the Rules for Christian Witness) were the charges leveled against 51-yr-old Lebanese Christian Henna Sarkees in May 2013 after he, a supervisor in an accounting firm in Saudi Arabia, witnessed to a Muslim employee who then became a Christian.

The convert – a 26-yr-old female Saudi accountant – subsequently fled the country; and on the 11th May 2013, a Saudi court sentenced Sarkees to 300 lashes and six years in prison for abuse of power and fraudulent conversion through deception/brainwashing. The woman's parents appealing – they want Sarkees to remain in jail until their daughter returns to Saudi Arabia. [Saudi Arabia actually issued an Interpol Red Notice for this woman.]

Unless these rules manage to stop all Christian witness, then they will not prevent persecution.  For the fact remains – to some, the evangelist is the fragrance of life – to others, the stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

All these rules will do is enable certain Christian elites to say: "Well that murdered missionary, that imprisoned evangelist, must have said something they shouldn't to someone they shouldn't to have brought this upon themselves. But hey – it's not our fault – we told them not to!" Then they can wash their hands of it and the dialogue can continue.

Now dialogue is imperative – but not at the expense of truth – not if it demands that the persecuted be betrayed and abandoned.

Though it be divisive and offensive and increasingly risky, the Gospel must not be silenced.

Tertullian once famously remarked: “Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” 

While there was persecution in Carthage, Tunisia, at Tertullian’s time (AD 200), it was nothing compared to what would come from the 7th C with the armies of Muhammad and the arrival of Islam. Had Tertullian been right, then with all that martyrs blood poured out in Carthage churches should have been springing up like mushrooms.

The Bible is clear – particularly if you consider the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 – the seed of the Church is the Gospel; and we are called to scatter that seed.

As a keen gardener – with half an acre of terraced cottage garden in the hills – I can tell you that no amount of blood and bone will make poppies grow if you fail to scatter the seed.

I believe the blood of the martyrs works very much like blood and bone – and the sweat of the labourers and the tears of the intercessors work very much like irrigation; they prepare the soil – but without the seed it is all pretty pointless.

If blood, sweat and tears prepare the soil – then might not our great redeeming God use an abundance of blood, sweat and tears to make hearts receptive to the Gospel? I believe that is exactly what he is doing.

In many countries, witness to Muslims comes with severe risk; in some countries the window has all but totally closed. In Somalia today, the remnant of a very young church is now deep underground thanks to al-Shabaab. Many Christians have fled, many have been martyred – the first among them, 25yr-old Mansur Mohammad  – a believer for 5 yrs – who, in 2008 was dragged before a kangaroo court, charged as a murtad (traitor to Islam) and then, because he refused to renounce Christ, beheaded.

Most witness to Somalis now takes place in Kenya and in the West among the Diaspora. Most Somalis in the Diaspora have relatives and friends in Somalia with whom they maintain contact. Lead a Somali Muslim to Christ in Australia, and you will touch Somali Muslims in Somalia. The same is true of Pakistani Muslims, Iranian Muslims, Saudi Muslims, Malay and Indonesian Muslims etc. Reaching Muslims locally will have global impact.

As I said earlier, we can love and evangelise Muslims AND care for the persecuted Church – they are NOT mutually exclusive. Indeed we must to both – and we can do both, precisely because we are people of grace.

We have an opportunity to be Reaching Muslims now as God moves among them preparing their hearts by applying the sweat of the labourers and the tears of the intercessors (of which we need much much more) and the blood of the martyrs.

May we be faithful with the seed that their sacrifice be not in vain.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
‘Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today’
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)
This book provides a Biblical response to suffering, persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth is currently writing a book on the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, due for release later this year.