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When Tempted to Flee, Stand

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Wave after wave of violence has threatened to extinguish the light of Christ in Iraq as the country has been vacated of over two thirds of its Christian population since the early 2000s. And yet, at least one pastor and his congregation can be highlighted as having stood firm in the face of the temptation to flee and chosen to shine as bright lights in the impending darkness.

This story is of Pastor Ara, an ABTS graduate, and his church in Baghdad. Shortly after the church’s establishment in 2004, the Iraqi sectarian war broke out in 2006 and lasted until 2008 causing many Christians to leave. Following a brief respite, militants with the Islamic State of Iraq massacred a number of congregants in a Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad in 2010, triggering a new wave of fear among Christians. To further exacerbate their difficulties, ISIS entered Mosul and the Nineveh plains in 2014 forcing Christians to flee the regions that had been their home for over 2000 years.

At this point Ara’s congregation stood at a crossroads. They could either give in to feelings of fear and helplessness and emigrate (as some had already done), or they could choose to stay and respond positively to the crisis by helping those who had been displaced. As Ara felt strongly that God was calling him to stay, which is what ABTS encourages its graduates to do, he likewise emboldened his congregation to take heart and stay as well. Their first step was to start giving assistance to those people who had come to Baghdad seeking refuge; so, they gave food packages to 25 displaced families. These families were touched by their acts of compassion and by the visits they received. Gradually, with MERATH’s help, his church was able to increase their efforts to help people from a variety of backgrounds in their community.

Now after five years of serving the community, the Baptist church led by Ara has extended its reach to include around 20 home groups in the Baghdad area. By choosing not to let their surroundings evoke fear and anxiety but rather use the opportunity to show God’s love and grace, they were actually able to catapult themselves above their circumstances and launch into greater areas of ministry and influence.

 

EMILY HOPPIN
Communications Officer | LSESD

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