Faith – That is the key word when considering the future of the church in Iraq. “The future of the church is dark or cloudy, as I put it. But we as Christians should live by faith. Faith is about something you cannot see; it is the faith that God has a plan and a future for the church in Iraq,” says Shlama*, director of Open Doors organization in Iraq.
When talking with her about the church in her country, faith plays a central role. But when in 2014 ISIS was on the rise and took over Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, displacing almost all Christians living there, didn’t she doubt at that moment about the future of the church?
“No, I did not doubt,” says Shlama. “When you look at the history of the church in Iraq, you know that periods of persecution come and go. From time to time, we had persecution and we had times of renewal in the church. For the church, Islamic State was a wake-up call for their faith. Many started thinking again about the meaning of being a Christian. Being a Christian doesn’t mean an easy life. Jesus doesn’t promise us an easy life, He promised to be with us. That is what the church believes.”
Shlama continues: “I see a lot of encouraging things happening. I heard people from different churches saying that they want to stay in the country and reach Muslims. They even said that they believe the church of the future will be a church from a Muslim background. That is really a revolution. Even if they cannot do a lot with those people from a Muslim background, they accept them coming and they see that as the future.”
INCREASE OF GRACE & MERCY
She thinks for a moment and says: “You know, times of persecution always mean times of an increase of the grace and mercy of God. I remember once I had a conversation about persecution. We talked about this text of when you’re weak, you’re strong.When you are persecuted, you see it’s not you who is strong but He who is with you.”
Shlama describes what she sees happening: “There is a trend of traditional churches declining in numbers because of emigration. On the other side, you see the church of believers from a Muslim background growing. But that church is very new, like a baby. You even cannot call it a church yet. I see this time as an open time, an opening that has been given to us. I believe that there are periods in history when God remembers a nation, when He gives them chances. We should use this time, it might not come again. Yes, there is a lot of persecution, but there is also a lot of work to do. It’s good that you realize that, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to work in this.”
Looking back on the past three years she continues: “It was encouraging to see how the church is reaching out to their people, how churches play a big role in standing with the people. That encourages me to help them even more. The priests stayed with the people who fled the villages in the Nineveh Plain, they kept contact, and they went visiting from tent to tent, then later from home to home. That is what presence ministry looks like. It looks like Jesus being with his people. It would have been difficult for my organization if the church hadn’t done so. Together we stood as one with the people. That is very encouraging.”