Hunted by Herod or by ISIS: The Persecuted Deserve Our Christmas Gifts
“…[W]e gave everything up, and now we’re living in slums, and shipping containers, all because we refused to renounce Jesus Christ.”
The 12 days of Christmas have begun, and many of us are still at home, enjoying the warmth and comforts of family, friends, and feasts. But for some Christians there is “no home for the holidays” this year, as Perry Chiaramonte recently reported at Fox News:
[T]he campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIS rages on, [and] Christian residents of surrounding villages already freed from the terror army’s grip have returned to find their homes booby-trapped, in ruins and uninhabitable.
…In some towns, most of the infrastructure has been reduced to rubble; in others, dangerous chemical compounds have been dumped, polluting the ground. But what all the places have in common is that they are unsafe and nearly impossible for those who fled to return any time soon.”
For American Christians, our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East are both an inspiration and an opportunity this Christmas Season. Their heroic witness gives us an inspiring glimpse into the heart of the Lord who was hunted by the powers of darkness from the moment of His conception. These Christians also represent an opportunity for us to give back to Our Lord by drawing close to the people closest to Him; those who suffer for His sake.
Enter the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, one of my favorite advocacy organizations. “This year, December marks the official beginning of rebuilding efforts with Operation Return to Nineveh, our massive campaign to rebuild communities and churches destroyed by the Islamic State since 2014,” a recent blog update at iraqichristianrelief.org states. On Christmas Day, they also prepared “1,000 Christmas presents for 1,000 displaced Assyrian Christian children who have suffered tremendous trauma at the hands of the Islamic State….”
Juliana Taimoorazy is the founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, and a Senior Fellow for the Philos Project. In a recent interview, she told me about the tremendous hardship many Assyrian Christians have faced since ISIS’s attacks in 2014, and about the hopeful mission of the “Operation Return to Nineveh” campaign:
It is incredibly important for the Christians to be armed to protect their own kind. In 2014 the Iraqi government, the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga failed us gravely in not protecting the vulnerable minorities. The Kurdish Regional Government, the Peshmerga, actually took our weapons away about two weeks before ISIS attacked. So we didn’t have any weapons to protect ourselves. A lot of our women were kidnapped, a lot of our kids were executed, a lot of our men were executed, because we couldn’t defend ourselves.
So now that we’re working on liberating these areas from ISIS, if we don’t protect ourselves, we do not trust the Kurds and we do not trust the Iraqi government to protect us. That’s why we are appealing to the West to help us to be equipped to defend our own when the time comes if, God forbid, there’s another attack.
Right now we have multiple Assyrian Christian militias. One of them that is the only officially recognized militia is called the Ninevah Plain Protection Unit, which is a part of the Iraqi military. They are assisted very little, but they are assisted by the Iraqi government, and they have been trained by the Americans. But we need more than that. We need a lot more for us to really have our own province.
When I asked Taimoorazy about the faith of Christians displaced by ISIS, she gave a surprising answer. “Their faith has grown stronger,” she said, “much stronger.” She told me what some local Christians had said to her face on a recent visit to Iraq:
You Christians in the West don’t understand Christianity as well as we do. We really have faith in Jesus. Look at how we live. We used to have homes like you do. We used to be doctors and lawyers and farm owners just like you. But we gave everything up, and now we’re living in slums, and shipping containers, all because we refused to renounce Jesus Christ.
“They say ISIS has caused them to become stronger Christians,” Taimoorazy said.
Being the Hands and Feet of Jesus
We know it’s our duty to defend the vulnerable, the “least of these” whom Christ warned us to treat as Himself (Matthew 25:40). Some of these Christians are in the same position the Christ Child was in during the first Christmas season: homeless, hungry, and hunted by soldiers with orders to kill.
Can there possibly be a better birthday gift for Our Lord than supporting His persecuted children in the Middle East, so close to where Christianity itself was born? This Christmastide, please consider supporting Juliana Taimoorazy and the work of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. To donate, click here for the Iraqi Christian Relief Council’s donation page.
“I have been raising awareness in America since 2007 when not many people knew that there were Christians in Iraq who were being persecuted for their faith and for their Assyrian ethnicity,” Taimoorazy told me:
It is heartwarming to see that the Western Church is waking up to the cause of the Christians of Iraq and Syria and there are more and more organizations wanting to do the right thing. One of these organizations is the Knights of Columbus who compassionately has come along our Eastern Church and have extended their Christian hand to help. I ask the Western Church to remember that if the Holy Spirit brings us the knowledge of such persecution, then He, our Lord expects us to act. St. Teresa of Avila said: “Christ has no Body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.” Knowledge bears responsibility and now that my fellow Western Christians know of the despair and suffering, it is our duty to break the long silence and be the hands and feet of Jesus on earth.