CHRISTIAN LEADERS WARN THAT CHRISTIANITY IN IRAQ COULD BECOME A MERE SYMBOLIC PRESENCE
Leaders of Catholic churches in Iraq have flown to Europe to report on the Iraqi crisis, to try to find solutions for the country’s rapidly declining number of Christians. The Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad, Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul, and Bishop Youssif Mirkis of Kirkuk, have held meetings in Brussels with high-level representatives of EU institutions and NATO. They discussed the situation and prospects for Christians in Iraq since the invasion of Mosul by IS and of the Ninevah Plains to the north, where there has been a high concentration of Christians. Many of the Christians had earlier fled Baghdad and other southern cities for the relative safety of the north.
The IS invasion has caused a flood of Christians from the south into the Kurdish-governed north-east, as well as other countries. Christian leaders are concerned that the 2,000-year presence of Christianity in Iraq will become merely symbolic as Christians flee the militants who continue to bring disorder and instability in Iraq. A decade ago Iraq was home to 1.5 million Christians. Now only about 400,000 are said to remain, and that number is dropping rapidly. “If they leave, their history is finished” Sako said during the Brussels meetings. Mouche said many who fled Mosul wanted to return, but could not because there was no water and hardly any electricity. In Kirkuk Christians are leaving at a rate of several hundred a day.
“Our presence was a symbol of peace, but there’s so much panic, and few Christians see their future in Iraq,” Reuters quoted Mirkis. Reports have emerged that militant members of IS appear to have dug up the grave of the Biblical prophet Jonah (revered by Muslims and Christians alike), in the east of Mosul. An Iraqi official Zuhair al-Ch alabi is quoted by Iraqi News as saying “The elements of IS controlled the mosque of the Prophet Younis (Jonah) in Mosul since they invaded the city. It is still held by them until now…elements of IS engaged in the process of tampering with the contents of the Mosque.” “There is almost certain information stating the fact that the elements of IS dug up the grave of the Prophet Younis” Chalabi added.
The jihadist group has reportedly also destroyed graves and shrines of other prophets in Iraq. The militants believe worshipping relics and tombs is against the teachings of Islam. The jihadist group has declared Sharia law in Mosul, and in at least one reported case is said to have forced Christians to pay the jizya tax for non-Muslims. Currently in Mosul all construction work has stopped, leaving many unemployed. There is an increased demand for black coloured clothing including veils and hijabs for women who are not allowed to walk in the streets unless accompanied by a male. All barber shops and women’s salons have closed, Christian Iraqi news source AINA has reported.
AINA obtained information from a report prepared by the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization in Baghdad which monitors the human rights situation in Iraq, particularly of minorities. In the Nineveh plains water and electricity continue to be severely limited. Residents who have dug wells are unable to purify the water for safe drinking. Relief efforts are not adequate, according to the report. A handful of relief and church organizations are scrambling to help. They are endeavouring to istribute emergency relief through local networks. Refugees express relief that they are out of the threatening situation around Mosul. One woman said: ‘It’s much better here than were I came from. At least we’re safe here.’
When relief packages are distributed the families quickly gather around in the garden of the church. There is a sense of desperation on the faces of the old men and the mothers who come to collect their food. Such is their desperation they argue over who should get a food package first. IS (Sunni’s) have destroyed many of the Shia Mosques in Mosul and taken control of the churches. They have not yet reached Baghdad, but each day there the bombs continue, the murders increase; in the past month alone over 2,700 people have been killed and over one million people have been forced to leave their homes. Tragedy and despair is all around.
BRITISH PARLIAMENT TOLD NOT TO LEGALISE ASSISTED SUICIDE
Legalising assisted suicide is a slippery slope toward widespread killing of the sick. A former euthanasia supporter warned of a surge in deaths if Parliament allowed doctors to give deadly drugs to their patients. Theo Boer, a European academic in the field of ethics said ‘Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely ever to go back in again.’ His native Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002, has seen deaths double in just six years and this year may reach a record 6,000. British peers are currently considering the Assisted Dying Bill, promoted by Lord Falconer, a Labour former Lord Chancellor which would allow doctors to prescribe poison to terminally ill and mentally alert people who wish to die.
Professor Boer had argued seven years ago that a ‘good euthanasia law’ would produce relatively low numbers of deaths. He said he now believed that the very existence of a euthanasia law turns assisted suicide from a last resort into a normal procedure. A ‘slippery slope’ for assisted dying in Britain would mean that euthanasia would follow the same path as abortion, which was legalised in 1967. There are now some 200,000 terminations a year. Anti-euthanasia campaigners and disability activists called on politicians to listen to the professor’s warning. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who is a disability rights campaigner, said: ‘As happens in Holland, the bill could end up encompassing significant numbers of seriously ill people.’
Euthanasia is becoming so prevalent in the Netherlands, Professor Boer said, that it is becoming a default mode of dying for many cancer patients’. Professor Boer said assisted deaths have increased by about 15% a year since 2008 and the number could hit a record 6,000 this year. He said he was concerned at the extension of killing to include the demented and the depressed. Activists continue to campaign for doctor-administered death to be made ever easier and ‘will not rest’ until a lethal pill is made available to anyone over 70 who wishes to die, he added. Professor Boer admitted he was wrong to have believed regulated euthanasia would work. ‘I used to be a supporter but now I take a very different view.
Last February Belgium approved euthanasia for children. The latest euthanasia figures for the Netherlands show that nearly one in seven deaths are at the hands of doctors. Candidates for euthanasia have to fill in an official form to p rove they want to commit suicide. In 2012, there were 4,188 deaths by direct euthanasia compared to 3,695 deaths by direct euthanasia in 2011. The figures do not include deaths by terminal sedation, where patients are rendered unconscious before they are dehydrated and starved to death, an act often referred to as ‘euthanasia by omission’. This practice accounts for more than 12 per cent of all deaths in the country.
Doctors in neighbouring Belgium are killing an average of five people every day by euthanasia – with a 27 per cent surge in one year. Elspeth Chowdharay-Best, honorary secretary of Alert, the anti-euthanasia pressure group, said legalising assisted suicide would be like ‘stepping off a precipice’. ‘It means that you would lose the right to live,’ she said. ‘It is more serious than people realise.’ Under Lord Falconer’s bill, a terminally-ill patient would be able to ask for drugs to kill him or herself. Two doctors would need to approve, and to be satisfied the patient was of sound mind and settled view, and had not been influenced by others.
This is a story of a Muslim family. The story began when the father, the head of the family, died. The eldest son must now take over responsibility for the family. Shortly after his father died, the son had a dream. He dreamt about his father, who told him that he had had a dream about Jesus just before he died. In his dream, the son saw his father lying in the hospital and Jesus appearing to him on his deathbed. Jesus said to him: “If you believe in Me, I will give you real life.” The son heard his father reply: ”I believe in you, but please go to my family.” The father then surrendered his life to Jesus and passed away. The dream made a deep impression on the son and so he invited the whole family to a meeting on the farm.
His little sister, however, refused to attend. In this Muslim country, sisters have to listen to and obey not only their fathers, but also their brothers. So, the son was angry with his sister and called her to account: “Why don’t you obey me? I am your brother.” His little sister then told him she was afraid. “I had a special dream,” she said and continued to share about how she had seen her father meeting Jesus in her dream. The son listened in utter amazement as his sister recounted the exact same story he had dreamt! At the family meeting, both the strongest son and his little sister shared their dreams with the rest of the family – all of whom were deeply impacted and accepted Jesus as Saviour.
The son then decided that they needed 50 Bibles to read more about their newfound faith. But where to find 50 Bibles in a remote area of a closed Muslim country? He tried a shop in a nearby city, but the owner told him that he could not help him with such a large order of Bibles. The man however knew someone else who could help. This third person was another Christian. He was not only able to give this seeking family the Word of God, and also words of great comfort, “The Lord is with you and with your family. He will teach you and if you need any help, we will be there to help you.”
* That God will continue to help Open Doors and new believers in the Middle East to meet one another, so that they will be strengthened in the faith.
* Pray, too, that the Church in the Middle East will continue to grow and that the Good News will keep finding a way – even when there seems to be no way.
* For Muslims who are seeking answers. Pray they will come to know God through unexpected and impactful ways.
ONCE CONJOINED TWINS IN DANGER OF ABORTION NOW CO-VALEDICTORIANS WITH BIG DREAMS
18 years ago, Emily and Caitlin Copeland were born, conjoined. Now, the girls are set to leave their hometown in Texas to attend different universities after graduating from high school as co-valedictorians. This will be only the second time in their lives that they will be apart from one another. Days after Emily and Caitlin turned 18, their mother, Crystal Copeland spoke about the dark time of finding out the girls were conjoined, and considering the possibility of aborting them. Crystal and John Copeland were a typical young couple. Then she got pregnant, and the diagnosis of conjoined twins came. It seemed to be the end of the world for them.
Crystal said. “At that time we were not part of a church. We both believed in God, but didn’t really understand what we were believing.” "e; I had prayed all my life, and I prayed heavily that weekend, while we were waiting to find out what the surgeons thought.” The waiting wasn’t easy, as doctors examined the ultrasound. “Some friends and family felt that we should abort.” “Not having faith at the centre of my life, I worried all the time—I don’t know what I would have done if they had told us they could not be separated.” According to Copeland, the girls were 17 weeks past gestation, and “they were kicking, they were moving, they were very real to me. We already had names picked out. It was traumatic.
We were looking for anything to latch on to for hope. When the surgeons said, ‘we’ve reviewed the ultrasound, and they can be separated,’ we grabbed onto that. We decided to continue the pregnancy even though we were given the option to abort. Crystal says choosing life for her babies, and raising them in difficult circumstances helped her and her husband realize their inner strength. She got so good at home care that a nurse said she would “hire me in a minute.” “I did all kinds of horrible stuff, and I got through it,” said Crystal. “You rise to the occasion when you have to.” Raising Emily and Caitlin also helped the Copeland’s marriage, she said. “It really made us stronger and solidified our marriage in a good way.”
CANADIAN CITY REVERSES BAN ON CHRISTIAN CONFERENCE
Nanaimo city council has repealed a motion it passed banning a Christian leadership conference in the city’s convention centre, because the conference was partially sponsored by an organisation opposed to same sex marriage. The decision to rescind the motion came after thousands of Canadians expressed their outrage to councillors over what lawyer Ezra Levant, who spearheaded the backlash, called “shocking” and “vicious” anti-Christian bigotry. Levant pointed out that in rescinding the motion, the Council had apologized for having passed it. The contentious motion centred on a “Beyond You” Leadercast event, which was scheduled to be broadcast from the taxpayer-owned Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
The conference, simulcast to venues around the world, featured speakers including former First Lady Laura Bush and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Nanaimo councillors had voted 8-1 to revoke the contract Leadercast had with the conference centre. They also passed the motion that banned “events that are associated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate.” The Councillors didn’t specify what they found “hateful” about the fast food chain or the Leadercast event but Councillor Fred Pattje, who drafted the motion, argued that the Christian view of marriage had no place in what he called a “progressive and open-minded” city such as Nanaimo.
In addition to organizing the petition, Levant held a rally on the steps of Nanaimo city hall attended by more than 100 people, and threatened legal action against councillors who equated Christians to organized crime and terrorist groups. Councillor Jim Kipp said the Christian view of marriage should “almost be a criminal point of view in this day and age,” while the event itself was compared to the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. Levant said that what “turned the tables” in Nanaimo was “tolerant Canadians deciding that we just couldn’t let Nanaimo get away with an intolerant motion. No group should be driven out of the public square because of their faith.”
CHURCHES OPEN DOORS TO REFUGEES FLEEING ISLAMIC STATE
Throughout northern Iraq and Syria, the scourge of the Islamic State (IS), has forced thousands into a life without homes, jobs and family. While they face an uncertain future, churches are helping fill that void with help and hope. Many of the churches in Erbil opened their doors to the many Christian refugees fleeing the advance of IS. The Kurdsman Church transformed its building into a true sanctuary. Pastor Majeed Mohammed, who has opened the doors for both Christians and non-Christians, said. “We wanted to show those people we don’t care if they are Christians, Yazidis, or Muslims. We don’t care about that,” Mohammed said. “They are human beings and they have been kicked out of their homes by IS.
We wanted to show them as Christians we love them and are very glad to have them here and save them.” One man led a mini-exodus of families to the Kurdsman Church. ” Pastor Majeed is really showing the love of Jesus,” he said. Across town at Ankawa Assemblies of God Church, families who are now safe talked about the violent ultimatum they faced. “We have been told by ISIS if we don’t convert to Islam either they will kill us or we will have to leave the city,” one refugee said. For most, it wasn’t a choice. “We prefer to die rather than convert to Islam,” he said. “God has created us as Christians so we don’t want to convert to Islam. The power of God keeps us and strengthens us to remain as Christians.”
Most will never return, like one policeman who escaped with his family and 10-day-old baby. “I’m already wanted by the Islamic groups over there and secondly I’m a Christian,” he said. “As a minority, I’m also wanted by ISIS so we cannot go back there anymore.” Most said they simply want to leave Iraq. “This is the only way or the only solution for our problem because we cannot go back to our home and we cannot stay here,” he said. “We want to go out, even if they provided international protection. We don’t want to keep staying here.” Their long-term fate remains one of the major questions in this humanitarian crisis.