Returning from a recent visit to Iraq, Regional Manager to the Middle East Aiden Clay explores the work Christ is doing in the Church.
The truth of I Peter 5:10 is evident in the Middle East today: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Despite war in Syria, Islamists rising to power in Egypt, and ongoing tension with the Islamic state of Iran (just to name a few), God is strengthening and establishing His church. And He is doing it the same way He has promised in Scripture—through suffering. God has not forgotten His Church. In the midst of grave persecution and uncertain times, the hands of God will keep and bless His Church, and a remnant will always, always remain.
The Middle East is undergoing a period of great turmoil and transition. We read reports weekly of Christians fleeing their ancient homelands throughout the Middle East for a safe-haven in the West. However, we must remind ourselves that the Church will persevere. The Church’s fate is sealed—not by war and revolution ignited by man—but by the will of Christ.
Having met with the faithful routinely in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the region, ICC has seen men, women, youth, and children put their trust in Christ and minister to their countrymen in war-torn regions, no matter the cost. Through their suffering, they are coming to understand the true meaning, to “take up their cross” (Luke 9:23), a decision to follow Christ and to suffer, as He has suffered, even until death for the sake of the Gospel.
“As a Christian, a part of my faith—a very sensitive part—is hope,” an Iraqi pastor who survived two bomb attacks on his congregation in 2011 and lost many of his flock to brutal persecution, recently told ICC when asked why he has chosen to stay in his homeland. “If we don’t have hope in our Christianity then whatever we preach, whatever we teach, is nothing. The church here in this land has faced many troubles, many hard times, but survived. And, it still exists. And, I believe it will exist until Jesus returns back.”
The church does not merely exist, but is being welded into a precious jewel, refined by fire. Moreover, the Gospel is spreading. Muslims throughout the region are turning to Christ in significant numbers. For example, ICC ministry partners in the region reported that 461 people have turned to Christ this year as a result of Christian radio and satellite television broadcasts. Many of these salvations occurred in Middle East countries considered “closed” to the Gospel. These new believers are connected to underground fellowships and are learning to boldly share the Good News with their families and friends.
Though we often only hear of the church’s suffering in persecuted lands, God is faithful in establishing His church beyond our expectations or understanding. Persecution has followed Christianity throughout the ages; it is nothing new. In fact, it is a promise which comes with great blessing and results. Suffering builds character and establishes the truth of the Word in our lives. So, have hope and take courage. While the Lord’s servant may only see hardship around him and say, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing…” remember that justice is “with the Lord, and My reward with My God” (Isaiah 49:3-4). Our persecuted brothers and sisters need our prayers as they carry on, not in vain, but that God may be glorified through the suffering church.