80 Percent of Christians Forced to Flee Iraq Since 2003

By Samuel Smith, The Christian Post. As conflicts in Iraq and Syria have forced millions of residents to flee their homes over the last several years, a leading Christian persecution activist has explained that over 80 percent of Christians have left Iraq in the last 13 years, while nearly half of all Christians have fled Syria since 2010.

Before the United States military went into Iraq in 2003, captured dictator Saddam Hussein, and opened up a power vacuum, Iraq was home to about 1.5 million Christians. But after sectarian violence commenced and the brutal Islamic State terrorist organization rose to power in 2014, fewer than 300,000 remain.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, civil war has ravaged the country over the last five years and the rise of IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) inside the country has compounded problems, thus creating one of the worst refugee crises in the 21st century.

Prior to the mass exodus from Syria over the last five years, Christians comprised about 10 percent of Syria’s population.

In a recent interview with the British news outlet Premier, Lisa Pearce, the CEO of Open Doors U.K. and Ireland, explained that the Christian population in Syria is only half of what it was in 2010. Additionally, she said that only about 17 percent of the Christians who lived in Iraq before the start of the Iraq War remain.

“Since the war began in Syria, about half of the Christians have fled the country,” Pearce, the head of one of the most prominent Christian persecution watchdog groups in the world, said. “In Iraq since 2003, five out of six Christians have left because they have completely given up hope of a future there.”


Read more

The Story of Iran’s Church in Two Sentences

Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.

By Mark Howard, The Gospel Coalition.

iran-1151139_960_720Everyone loves a good story. As Christians, we especially love stories that tell us how, when all seems lost, God makes a way.

One such story is about the church in Iran—and it’s one of the greatest stories in the world today.

It’s a simple story that can be summarized in just two sentences: Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.

As simple as it is, such an amazing story is worth examining deeper.

Growth Amid Persecution

The Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hard-line Islamic regime. Over the next two decades, Christians faced increasing opposition and persecution: All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned and soon became scarce, and several pastors were killed. The church came under tremendous pressure. Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die.

But the exact opposite has happened. Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.


Related article: Prayer for the persecuted church: Iran

Read more

‘They Say We Are Infidels’: How the Church in the Middle East Endures Amid Intense Persecution

 “Everywhere militants were blowing up Christians … the message to these ‘infidels’: You don’t belong in Iraq. Leave, pay the penalty to stay, or be ready to die.”

By Carey Lodge, Christian Today.


Mindy Belz

Journalist and editor of WORLD magazine, Mindy Belz, has reported on the ground in the Middle East for more than a decade. Having traveled extensively in and around Iraq since before the beginning of the Iraq invasion of 2003, she’s had an insider’s view of the way that the war has affected civilians, in particular Christians.

The ultimatum above features on page one of her new book, They Say We Are Infidels (Lion Hudson, £12.99). It refers to war-torn Iraq in 2006 – long before the catastrophic rise of Islamic State – and reveals the heartbreaking decision faced by Christians all over Iraq and Syria.

A believer herself, Belz has compiled the harrowing, and often inspiring, accounts of the Christians she’s met throughout the region while covering the war and its aftermath. People like Insaf Safou, an Iraqi Christian wife and mother who travelled throughout the country with packets of donated money to give to families in desperate need. Odisho Yousif, who was shot and kidnapped by Islamist militants in 2006 while trying to deliver aid. And Fr Najeeb Michaeel, who packed up and transported hundreds of ancient, priceless documents from his church in Mosul which was later overtaken by ISIS militants, and is now working to preserve church history by digitising them.

Belz says she “stumbled upon” the persecuted Christians of Iraq and was drawn in by their resilience. “It’s embarrassing to admit because I am a Christian and should have been more aware of the ancient roots that our religion has there, and yet I wasn’t,” she tells Christian Today. “I began a whole long journey that I didn’t expect; it was a door opening onto a community that I think most of us in the West have little appreciation and understanding of.”

Christians have long been persecuted in the Middle East. Though the world woke up to the plight of religious minorities in 2014 with the overrunning of Mosul, they had suffered for years under brutal regimes and extremist groups. “We didn’t fully pay attention… until ISIS came in in 2014 and started beheading people, hanging Christians on crosses, taking women as slaves and doing all of these unspeakable, atrocious things,” Belz said. “[This is the] kind of persecution that Christians have been facing all along. They haven’t had a seat at the table, their voices haven’t been heard.”


Read more

Rallying to the White Flag of Surrender: A Call to Christians in a Day of Division

White flag

“Having been liberated by Christ from the penalty and tyranny of sin, we are now surrendered as slaves to Christ. There is humility in surrender. As a person or a people wave the white flag of surrender they say to the world ‘I surrender the idea under which I used to march. I surrender the allegiance I had to the idea for which I fought.’ The question of the Christian call, is are we willing to do that?” — Carmen Fowler LaBerge

Flags are flying at half-staff in America. Again. This past week, our country was again torn apart with acts of violence. America is existing in a fractured state. During times of grief and anger, it is easier to retreat into our own like-minded and homogenous-looking communities rather than risk reaching across divides. It is more comfortable to assign blame than examine our own hearts.

For those who are Christians, there’s a deep heartbreak and great responsibility.  Division and emnity break the heart of God and so, break our hearts as well. God cares about justice and mercy and equity and truth.  And while we do not rush to judgement, neither do we cover up injustice.  Racism is real and it has plagued humanity for millenia.  Here in the United States, racism is complicated by a history of race-based slavery for which some Christians provided justification.

That means that Christians today, of all racial backgrounds, have a heavy burden of responsibility and a mutual call to leadership as peacemakers.  We must work together to change unjust systems and alleviate the misery of the oppressed as mutual burden bearers.  And we must also die to self – each of us and all of us – submitting our personal preferences and comfort for the good of the Body of Christ and the glory of God.

As flags fly again at half-staff, let’s use the Confederate Flag as a point of conversation.



the-reconnect-buttonListen to related podcasts from The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge:

The Reconnect 7-8-16: A wrap up of the week: ambush kills five police officers in Dallas;

The Reconnect 7-6-16: In Baton Rouge, Alton Sterling was shot and killed in an altercation with police, and a bystander’s video of the shooting has gone viral. Trillia Newbell joins us to discuss what believers can and must do to lead in racial reconciliation.

Read more

Beaten and Abused for their Faith in Jesus: Christian Persecution in India

By Carey Lodge, Christian Today.

sunita-open-doorsHundreds of thousands of Christians across India are faced with a sobering ultimatum: hide their faith, or risk harassment, intimidation, and even death.

Threats against churches, arson attacks on Christian property, and the harassment and violent abuse of new converts to Christianity are all on the rise in India, where just 2.3 per cent of the population identifies with the faith.

Two young women who have experienced such persecution are Meena, 32, and her 25-year-old sister, Sunita (names have been changed to protect identity).

They were severely beaten by a group of men from their village in Odisha state after news spread that they had converted to Christianity. Remarkably, they praise God for their experiences.

“We knew about persecution in theory because the Bible speaks about it,” Meena told researchers for Christian persecution charity Open Doors. “And when it happened, we thanked God for it.”

The sisters came to faith though a Christian radio show in 2004, and initially felt compelled to hide their conversion for fear of repercussions from local Hindu hard-liners. Two years later, though, they were baptised and began to attend church services. “My faith had grown stronger and I thought, ‘If I die, I will be resurrected,'” Meena explained.

However, about a year later locals held a meeting and decided that Christians were not welcome in their village. They called the sisters’ father, and pressurised him to force the women out of the house. He refused, but stopped paying for their food and clothing.

“We had to take care of ourselves,” Meena recalled. “The entire village rejected us, but we were blessed by the Lord.”

Read more …

Read more

Issues in the Future of Evangelicalism

The Future of Evangelicalism Includes Harsh Realities for Churches

By Ed Stetzer, The Exchange.

This a longer post than normal, but I felt it better to post singly rather than break it up into a series.

Evangelistic fervor—the core of evangelicalism—ebbs and flows in the West.

Lately, it seems more ebb than flow. Entire regions of the country lag behind population growth in church growth. That is, people are not being converted to Jesus at the same pace as birth and immigration rates are increasing. Part of this, I think, is the unwillingness or inability of Christians in America to adapt evangelistic efforts to new realities around them.

Yesterday, LifeWay Research released the results of a survey that should cause every pastor and every church to evaluate their evangelism strategies: nearly half of non-church attendersnever think about the afterlife; almost 75% would not attend a seeker small group; more than 60% would not attend a worship service. But, 61% would attend a church sponsored event on neighborhood safety. This signals what for many churches would be a significant shift in how we spread the gospel.

The Great CommissionThe enduring question for the church is this: how do we fulfill the Great Commission in a rapidly changing world?

We—the church of the West—receive no exception from the question.

But it appears that despite our best efforts to keep up with the ever-morphing values and circumstances of Western cultures, the answer eludes us.

For many , the answer is not to adapt or change at all, but merely to maintain as if by some force of will the imagined halcyon days gone by of Christendom come full circle (or at least feels nostalgic for the faith of their grandfathers). But Christendom is over and no amount of wishing will make it return.

The Great Nostalgia is not the Great Commission.

The answer does not lie at some outlying extreme of either constant adaptation or constant constancy. Instead, our churches must continue the hard work of contextualizing the message of Jesus Christ to all tongues, tribes, and nations, whether in the Congo or in California.

This is just good missionary work.

The strategy needed is a counter-cultural return to biblical mission. What we need to do is advance back to the scriptural blueprint for the church on mission. What the church in the West desperately needs is a missional renaissance.

How might the church address the issues of the world? In other words, how might the church undergo this missional renaissance to embody the gospel in the post-Christendom West?

Three primary steps are needed: a rediscovery of the biblical mission, a reconsidering of the nature of the gospel, and a re-turning away from modernity.


Read more

US Accepting Only 28 Christians vs. 5,435 Muslim Refugees, Despite ISIS’ Unstoppable Genocide

By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post.

Immigrant and additional coresponding words written with chalk on a blackboard

Immigrant and additional coresponding words written with chalk on a blackboard

The United States government is processing an unbelievably low number of Christian refugees despite the ongoing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria, the American Center for Law and Justice reports.

The conservative law group cited numbers from the Refugee Processing Center, noting that while the U.S. has processed 11,086 Muslims from Iraq since the beginning of 2015, only 433 Christians have been added to that number. And in Syria, there have been 5,435 Muslims welcomed and only 28 Christians.

“In an attempt to justify this astounding discrepancy, the Obama administration and congressional Democratic leadership continue to maintain that the U.S. should not consider a refugee’s religion in deciding whether to grant refugee status,” the ACLJ said on Tuesday.

They argued, however, that religion should definitely be a consideration when granting refugee status, given that IS targets Christians and other religious minorities in the region.

The law group said Secretary of State John Kerry admitted in March that IS kills Christians because of their religion.

“So, we know that ISIS targets Christians in Iraq and Syria because they are Christians. Christians are being slaughtered, tortured, raped and displaced because they are Christian. We also know that under U.S. and international refugee law, religion is a criterion for granting refugee status,” the ACLJ added, warning that unless serious action is taken to protect minorities, they will be wiped out at the hands of IS.


Related article: Religion is a Legal Ground for Refugee Status Determination – Stop Ignoring Christians Fleeing ISIS

Read more

When Muslims Meet Christ: A Growing Trend, An Answer to Prayer

By Eric Metaxas, Breakpoint.

daily_commentary_05_31_16The headlines are filled with bad news about the Muslim world in general—and Christian-Muslim encounters in particular. We see horrifying images of Christians kneeling before being decapitated, of kindly nuns executed, of believers by the tens of thousands forced to flee their homes as refugees to escape ISIS.

But as the late Paul Harvey used to say, you need to know “the rest of the story.” There are some good, very good, things happening in the Muslim world. First, not all Muslims hate Christians—far from it. As just one example, Sherry Weddell, writing in the National Catholic Register, recalls the treatment of one of her Christian friends who lived among Muslims after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. “She watched those terrible pictures from afar on the BBC, while being showered with apologies, sympathy and support from her local Muslim friends who had been close friends for years.”

And while it’s a common complaint that so-called “mainstream Muslim” groups aren’t speaking out against Muslim terror groups, we need to give credit where credit is due. In January, 200 international Muslim leaders released the Marrakesh Declaration, which calls for Muslim-majority nations to protect the freedom of religious minorities, including Christians. Earlier this month, another 300 Muslim leaders from about 30 countries gathered in Indonesia to denounce extremism.

All good! But as my colleague and BreakPoint editor at large, Stan Guthrie, has said, “We should never confuse our need for a peaceful and tolerant Islam with Muslims’ need for peace with God through Jesus Christ.” And that is where the news gets even better!

For the last several years, researchers have noted what happens when Muslims meet Christ—huge numbers of them are becoming followers of Jesus.

Read more …

Read more

Living in a (Nominal) Religious Context

By Ed Stetzer, The Exchange.

The fastest shrinking category in American religion is still the largest catagory—people who self-identify as Christian, but whose religion is not a central part of their lives. We call these people nominal Christians.

Where I live in Tennessee, nominal Christianity is overwhelming and easy to notice. In the places I’ve lived, like Buffalo or Erie, it’s much less so, but still a large category.

However, this largest category is also the fastest shrinking.

To be blunt: nominalism is dying.

While this may not be good for a culture increasing in secularization, in some ways, it is a good thing for the church. Churches will have more of an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the host culture. Lives empowered by Christ should look different and now they increasingly will.

In spite of the decline of nominalism, there are pockets throughout North American that still have a heavy presence of nominalism. The Bible Belt, pardon the bad metaphor, supports some of these pockets.

Here are some dangers, difficulties, and directives of living in a nominal religious context.

173485607Many American Southerners still possess a religious terminology that expresses they were saved at the age of 8, baptized at the age of 10, and are on the membership roll at the Crooked Creek Pentecostal Church or the Sugar Creek Methodist Church. Many of these individuals based their salvation on being moral, decent, and upstanding citizens, who love their families, their country, and even their God.

Living in such a nominal religious context presents some dangers, difficulties, and directives for believers who are passionately committed to king Jesus.

Dangers of Living in a Nominal Religious Context

The dangers of living in a nominal religious context aren’t the same as living in a zealous violent religious context like regions in the Middle East. Living in those areas can cost one their life. Living in a nominal religious context may not put one’s life in danger, but if not careful it can endanger a believer in other ways that are just as costly—just on a different scale.

There’s the danger of embracing a comfortable Christianity.


Read more

What the Latest Bible Research Reveals About Millennials

Turns out, young Christians may be the most engaged Bible readers in generations.

From Christianity Today.

Bible-StudyPracticing Christian millennials are bucking a trend.

Overall, this generation is less likely to read or trust the Bible than any other. More than half (55%) are “Bible-neutral” or “Bible-skeptical,” compared to 45 percent of teens, 51 percent of Gen-Xers, 40 percent of Boomers, and 40 percent of Elders.

Yet Christian youth who go to church and care about their faith may know the Bible better than older Christians. Practicing millennials are more likely to believe the Bible came from God and read it multiple times a week than any other generation (87%), according to a six-year American Bible Society (ABS) and Barna Group study of Bible engagement in the United States.

(The report surveyed millennials, which it defined as those born between 1984 and 1998. Gen-Xers were born between 1965 and 1983, Boomers were born from 1946 to 1964, and Elders were born before 1946. Teens were those ages 13 to 17 in 2015.Practicing describes those who identify as Christian, say their faith is important in their lives, and have been to church within the past month.)

In fact, the way practicing Christian millennials engage with the Bible looks a lot like the way their parents and grandparents do.

Americans of all ages are growing more skeptical about the Bible, according to the study. More than 1 in 5 (22%) said they were skeptical of the Bible’s claims in 2016, more than double the 10 percent who were skeptical in 2011.

While three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead (a finding ABS and Barna call “remarkable”), fewer believe that a historical Daniel survived the lions’ den (65%), that Moses actually parted the Red Sea (64%), or that David literally killed Goliath with his slingshot (63%).

Millennials are the most skeptical of all. Overall, four of five adults consider the Bible a holy book (81%), and that number shrinks with age. Elders (88%) and Boomers (87%) are more likely than Gen-Xers (79%) and millennials (71%) to believe the Bible is holy.

The biggest gap appears between millennials and their grandparents. Millennials are twice as likely (23%) as Elders (11%) to say the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men.” Elders, meanwhile, are twice as likely (31%) as millennials (16%) to say the Bible is the actual word of God.


Read more