A Tireless Campaigner for the Assyrian Christians of Iraq
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
2007-02-09 Iraq (ANS) — Ken Joseph Jr. was born and raised in Japan and has been a model and a regular commentator on radio and television around the world.
But his real passion is helping raise awareness for the downtrodden Assyrian Christians of Iraq through his tireless campaigning on their behalf and through his web site, www.assyrianchristians.com.
I caught up with this dynamo of a man recently when he was in Southern California where he agreed to talk about his extraordinary life on my Front Page Radio program on KWVE 107.9 FM.
In the interview, which will be broadcast on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 5:00 PM, he began by telling the story of his parents. “Right after the end of the Second World War, General MacArthur put out a call for ten-thousand missionaries to come to Japan and my parents came, they met in Japan and I was born and raised there. I think I spoke Japanese before we spoke English.
“There were four boys in the family and I’m the only one that’s still in Japan . My parents are still there also and they are going to be getting an award from the Emperor not too far in the future. I think they’re the last of this original group that came.”
Ken then spoke about his conversion at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in the early days of the church when the Jesus People revival was occurring.
“While I was a young person in Japan , I would spend the summers earning money to go to school,” he said. “I modeled and I also worked on those freighters and I came here to Southern California and I stayed with some friends who lived nearby. They said, ‘There’s this really strange church up the street,’ and so I went to see what was happening and found out that they were meeting in a tent.
“When it got too full, they’d just pull up the flaps and everyone would sit out on the ground. And for the first time in my life I met people that I thought were real Christians. I don’t know how else to put it.
“I remember Pastor Chuck Smith would get up there with his Bible read a chapter and speak for a few minutes and then sit down. We would then sing and then people got up and gave testimonies I’ll never forget that. The testimonies were real that’s the only way I can put it. And I met the Lord there and never looked back.”
I then asked Ken how he got involved with the Assyrians of Iraq.
“I’m Assyrian and my father, when he first came to Japan, happened to meet a Japanese on the boat who told him the story of how it was the Assyrians who about 1500 years ago first brought the Gospel to Japan and China and then all over the world,” he said. “I first got involved about three years before the war broke out when we’d been working really closely with the Assyrian church in Baghdad. They told me that they planned to re-send missionaries for the first time in over a thousand years because they can go back to these countries and minister there. Just as this was getting going the war broke out.
“I have mixed feelings on what exactly is going on in Iraq . Part of it, of course, is this whole thing with the Islamic world but I think part of it I think is an attempt by the enemy to snuff out this one little group that holds the key to reaching the largest part of the unreached world which is Asia .”
He said that his father had been visiting their relatives in Iraq , but on one occasion when he wasn’t able to go, Ken Jr. took his place.
“I met with our family I found out I’m part of a tribe I met the head of the tribe. That was really the beginning of it. At that time I was against the war and I think all of us I think, as Christians, we should always be against war.
“I’d gone to the anti-war demonstrations in Baghdad , but while there I began to see how terrible it was under Saddam. My family told me that when the phone would ring or there was a knock on the door, they said the whole place went into panic. It was so terrible for them during those days. For those of us who live in these sheltered societies we don’t experience evil. I think we’ve forgotten what evil was. I encountered evil in Iraq under Saddam and it really changed my perspective.
“As terrible as it may be today in Iraq , it doesn’t compare to how terrible it was under Saddam.”
Ken said that he stayed in Baghdad until the war about to break out and the head of his tribe asked him for his own safety. So he drove to the Jordanian border of the country with others, but then he said he a border guard discovered the videos he had taken.
“It was one of the strangest experiences of my life,” recalled Ken. “He took me into a room and I had probably twenty video tapes and a cell phones with me; everything that was illegal. He laid it all out and I thought that was it. Then he folded it all back and gave it to me and said, ‘Go. Go.’ At that point I knew that the battle was over because even the border guards had given up.
“So then, after that, we went into Amman and we got supplies and we brought in the first relief trucks with about twenty tons of supplies.”
He went on to say, “I think it’s important for people to understand that what is happening in Iraq right now is a battle, not just for Iraq , but for much of the rest of the world because what happens there is going to spread throughout the world.
“We’ve lost at this point about 500,000 Christians who have already left the country. Most of them have gone into Amman . What we’re really asking right now is for people to help us with what is a miracle that has happen just recently. That is that the Iraqi government is so worried because all of the people are leaving, the Christians, are the intelligent people and they’ve offered to set aside one province just for the Christians.
He said that this province would be located in Nineveh, featured on the book of Jonah.
“People forget is that the Iraqis really love the Christians,” said Ken. “Any Iraqi government office you go to or any big company always, without exception, the key positions are held by a Christian because they know the Christians can be trusted and they don’t want them to leave. So we’re really hoping that people will respond and call up their congressman and say, ‘We’ve heard that the Christians of Iraq have been provided for with a province and we’d like them to be able to go back to there to live. Could you help us on this?’ And if we can just get a little bit of push, I think within the next couple of months, it’ll happen. And at least the northern part of Iraq will be saved. The north is just fantastic.
“It is important to remember that the Assyrians are the only people that still speak the language that Jesus spoke – Aramaic. But I should be careful because it’s not we’re not setting aside a ‘religious province’. It’s a province that is based on the people that live there. It would be like the American Indians for example, who have a historic right to the land so they live in those areas. What will develop is an area where all of the ‘normal’ people can live. If you are a woman, you will be able to walk the street without covering your head. They won’t be able to a young woman off the street and legally marry them and divorce them an hour later. So it’ll be an oasis of normalcy in this chaotic mess.”
I concluded the interview by asking Ken Joseph Jr., what he has learned from the Christians of Iraq.
“I’ve learned that history counts,” he replied. “We talk to people in Iraq who go to a church that’s been there for 1500 years. It’s an incredible depth to their faith and these people have kept their faith for all this time. The Assyrians were the first nation to ever accept the Gospel. They became the first Christian nation. They have the same church services they’ve had for all these years. You go in there and it’s moving because you think this is how the early Christians celebrated their times together. There are no big decorations and the services go on for two or three hours.
“I always wondered what it was that made this tiny little group of people take the Gospel to all over the world. One day I noticed right behind an old seminary there were these holes in the side of the mountain and I went to look in them and discovered that this was where the seminary students studied and that’s where they had to go for a week or two to pray. They are really Prayer Mountains.
“But the main goal that we have is that the church in particular will recognize that one of the last Christian groups in the Middle East is about to be snuffed out and we have to help them.”