We have heard about the atrocities, the thousands of Christians displaced and the ancient churches being destroyed by Islamic State (IS).
Is this a temporary battle that U.S. firepower will help win or are we witnessing the end of Christianity in Iraq?
“The history of the church in Iraq has been of persecution from the Persian empire to our Islamic history,” said Ara Badalian, pastor of Baghdad Baptist Church. “The presence of the church has been very important, but we are afraid of the end of the Christian faith in Iraq.”
The fear and the negative headlines can suggest the end of the church in Iraq is a “fait accompli,” but there are small signs that Christianity may have a future there after all.
1. Christians feel called to stay
There is no doubt that Iraqi Christians are scared. Three families from Badalian’s church have already emigrated to Turkey, with others thinking of leaving.
“All the Christians fear the unstable situation in Iraq,” Badalian said. “After 11 years, they have lost their peace. They ask ‘What about the future? What about our children’s future?'”
But despite this there are Christians, like Badalian, who feel a calling to stay and serve God in Iraq.
“As a pastor I have a vision for my church to stay in Iraq,” he said. “We urge people to stay to do what is God’s will for them.”
2. Christians feel called to serve their community
Badalian recently met refugees in Erbil, who had escaped Mosul and surrounding villages following the advance of IS.
A wealthy man that he met, who had fled his home hours before IS came into Mosul, lost everything but his identity papers, passport and some money. Others Badalian saw did not even have that.
He met these refugees at Catholic and evangelical churches that have opened their doors to help these desperate people. Badalian’s church is planning their own humanitarian response.
The congregation has contributed toward food aid, which they plan to give to Christian and Yazidi refugees living close by in the coming weeks. “I think this is the time for our church to respond to the community around,” Badalian said.
Churches in Iraq are not hiding away in fear. They continue to show compassion, welcome the stranger and help their neighbors in need.
3. Christians are building relationships with Muslims
Sunni extremists do not represent the majority of Islam. Christians and Muslims often work together in Iraq.
Badalian is involved in Christian-Islamic relations and dialogue in Baghdad and has been involved with other religious leaders in the Iraq Culture Day initiative.
A brighter future in Iraq is not only the end of extremist groups but also is all of Iraqi society working together, and there are signs of that happening.
4. Christian leaders are being trained and equipped
Thanks to a BMS grant, Badalian studied at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Lebanon.
He is one of many Middle Eastern pastors serving in difficult places across the region, who have been encouraged in their ministry by ABTS.
Badalian has found his studies at the seminary useful in developing his church during this critical time.
“The important thing is the missional perspective we studied at ABTS,” he said. “We started home groups here after I graduated in 2012. This has helped us bring the gospel to others.”
These signs may be small, there may be many troubles ahead for Iraqi Christians, but they are still playing their part in Iraqi society and their time there is not over yet. “We are afraid, but we have hope,” Badalian said.
Chris Hall is the editor of BMS World Mission’s Engage magazine. A version of this news article first appeared on the BMS website and is used with permission. You can follow Hall on Twitter @chrishallnewb and BMS @BMSWorldMission.