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07/13/2023 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The headlines coming from the Middle East in the past few decades have seemed anything but comforting and hopeful: war, terrorism, social upheaval, natural disasters, and stories of intense persecution of Christians. Yet, so much negative news makes one wonder, is there anything good that can come out of the Middle East? Is there any resurrection out of all the death?

For the past five years, I have had the wonderful privilege of living and traveling throughout the Middle East. In this beautiful region where the events of the Bible took place, you can find records from the earliest human civilization and where Christianity itself originated.

I can certainly attest to the generous hospitality and rich cultures represented by its people, wonderful pictures of hope and life. But I also have come face-to-face with the pain, sorrow, and death present in this region. I have walked dusty roads with dear Iraqi friends mourning for those lost in recent genocides of their people at the hands of ISIS. I have sat with the Syrian refugee recounting the immeasurable destruction of their beloved country after more than a decade of war. I have taken phone calls with reports of Christian brothers and sisters arrested and condemned to death in Iran and North Africa simply for the “crime” of choosing to follow Jesus Christ.

From Istanbul to Jerusalem, Aleppo to Alexandria, from Beirut to Baghdad, cities once centers of early Christianity are now symbols of Christian communities silently vanishing into their final generations amid all the turmoil in the Middle East.

A BLEEDING CHURCH

Multiple reports in the past several years reveal the unprecedented decline in the number of Christians in the Middle East, with a sharp decrease, particularly in the past two decades. In addition, several nations have seen high emigration rates from intense persecution, conflict, and economic crises, along with lower birth rates.

Turkey has seen its Christian population shrink from more than 20% of its population to less than 1% in the past 100 years since the Ottoman genocide of Christians and the founding of the modern state of Turkey. Perhaps the most striking example is in Iraq, where around 80% of Christians left the country in the past 20 years, leaving it with an approximate mere 200,000 Christians (less than 2% of the population).

Internal crises in Syria and Lebanon have left the two nations with a similar downward trend. As one Christian Syrian leader described it, the past decade of war has resulted in Syria’s Christian population “bleeding,” with around 50% fewer Christians left in the country. Lebanon’s Christians, which at its founding in 1943 was a majority Christian nation, now comprise only about 35% of the population, with continued high emigration rates due to the nation’s prolonged economic crisis. Israel-Palestine’s Christian population, the birthplace of Christianity, has drastically declined to less than 1% of the population.

Despite the unprecedented loss of Christians, a remarkable movement of new believers has emerged among the people of the Middle East.

God has been working through the region’s upheaval to cause many from the region’s majority religion, Islam, to question their faith and be attracted to the love and hope of Jesus. In many ways, God is uniquely using a shrinking, persecuted remnant of Christians to advance the gospel.

AN EXPLOSION OF CURIOSITY

Christian media, Bible access, and dreams fuel Muslims’ interest in the gospel. With the majority of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa not knowing a Christian personally, these seekers then desire to find a church or a Christian where they can have their questions answered. While some Christians fear association with seekers due to persecution, there are also many courageous front-line workers helping to guide and support these seekers in their Christian journey.

IMITATING CHRIST

God uses Christians’ unconditional love and charity amid the turmoil that society has endured in the past few decades. Christians’ charity for the poor, the refugees, the sick, and the outcasts has been an irrefutable and irresistible light for the watching world.

Church leaders in places like Lebanon and parts of Europe have shared how opening their doors to help Middle Eastern refugees has created new opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ and brought about revivals of a living faith among their churches.

Even governments and societies in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey have recognized the peace and positive influence their Christian minorities contribute during recent conflicts and national crises, helping to guard the historical mosaic of religious co-existence in the Middle East that political movements and radical Islamic terrorist groups threaten.

REFINING THROUGH FIRE

God uses persecution to grow the faith of Christians and birth new churches and believers. Numerous testimonies of Christians shared that before the conflict with ISIS, they were cultural Christians in name, without any vibrant connection to their faith, community, or desire to pass on their Christian faith to their children. However, through the fires of persecution, such as displacement and economic loss, these people share how their trust in God grew, and Christian communities forged into greater unity and life.

Another example is from North Africa, where every time there is a church closure or publicized arrest of Christians, internet data points to sharp increases in searches about Christianity from locals curious about what it is and why it is considered so “dangerous” by their governments and societies. As more people, particularly the younger generation, interact with and are exposed to Christians through friendship and understanding, the more they ask why there should be such division and persecution towards their Christian neighbors.

ROOTS OF THE FAITH

So why is it important to support persecuted Christians so that they persevere and remain a living light in the region? Among the seeming death of Middle Eastern Christianity, what can we do to be a part of a new resurrection by supporting our persecuted brothers and sisters?

From a Christian mission’s perspective, we have seen how God is using this courageous remnant to hold on to the faith while being a guide to new first-generation Christians from non-Christian backgrounds in the world’s most unreached places. International Christian Concern (ICC) actively equips Christians in the Middle East to be effective guides to new believers and helps support the first-generation in the early days of their newfound faith who experience great persecution for deciding to follow Christ.

For supporters of religious freedom everywhere, ensuring the preservation of the world’s oldest Christian communities that date back to the first centuries after Christ remains an important part of the rich global Christian heritage—including its contributions to the world in areas such as education, charity, advancements in science and culture, and Middle Eastern societies based on peace and understanding.

The continued presence of the world’s oldest Christian communities, particularly in the West, brings a shining example that Christianity originated in the Middle East before spreading to become a global faith for all people in every nation. Christianity’s profound influences on Western civilization is increasingly being disregarded and even despised as oppressive symbols of Western colonialism, but through examples like the Church in the Middle East, we are reminded of the roots of our faith.

ICC assists these Christian communities by supporting livelihoods for Christians who suffer economic loss from attacks and pressures for their faith, advocating for the release of detained Christians, and blessing persecuted Christian leaders and families through biblical leadership training and spiritual retreats.

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