Christianity has deep roots in Iraq. In fact, many churches there trace their history back to the early days of Christianity. Since the war began in 2003, however, attacks on Christians have increased, and while other minority groups are also affected, there is some feeling that Christians are being targeted specifically.
An Al Qaeda-linked group, the “Islamic State of Iraq,” has claimed responsibility for an Oct. 31 massacre during a church service. More than 50 people were killed, including two priests, and many others were wounded. And there have been new, but not as severe, attacks since.
These conditions have given Christians a new incentive to flee, even though this may mean leaving behind their careers, homes, and communities. Prior to 2003, there were about 1 million Christians, but since then at least half have left. Some have moved elsewhere in Iraq, and others have left the country entirely.
The Bible’s accounts of humanity’s spiritual journey include many examples of people who left their home countries or areas for various reasons and had to give up all they had in the process. At one point, even after they had seen God’s power protecting them from the Egyptians, the Israelites said they would rather be back in Egypt “when we did eat bread to the full,” rather than be in the wilderness where they would die of hunger (Ex. 16:3).
They discovered, however, that God had no intention of letting them starve. When Moses prayed to God for help, the people found a supply of manna for the morning and quails in the evening. Their needs were met.
Our prayers for the persecuted Iraqi Christians can dwell on God’s goodness and on His care for them – just as He met the needs of the Israelites. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote a lovely poem called “ ‘Feed My Sheep’,” which speaks of the Christ, the spiritual message of God’s love for His sons and daughters, and how it will lead everyone to the good they need. It includes these lines:
So, when day grows dark and cold,
Tear or triumph harms,
Lead Thy lambkins to the fold,
Take them in Thine arms;
Feed the hungry, heal the heart,
Till the morning’s beam;
White as wool, ere they depart,
Shepherd, wash them clean.
“Poems,” p. 14
Even though their days in Iraq may seem “dark and cold” with danger, this promise that Christ will lead these people to safety, meet their needs, and heal fearful memories or injuries has been proved true by other people in trouble over the decades since Mrs. Eddy wrote it. And our earnest prayers can call on the validity of this promise for them.
As for those engaged in acts of persecution, the Bible’s record is also clear. As in the case of Paul, who actively persecuted Christians, they sometimes see the error of such cruel behavior. Other times, their ability to harm is taken away, as in the case of those who persecuted Daniel and ended up in the lions’ den themselves.
To pray effectively to uplift the thoughts of these individuals, and encourage them to think and act less violently and more respectfully, there’s a simple rule anyone can follow. Jesus spoke of it in his Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
Such prayer doesn’t whitewash evil. Rather, it insists that each individual is the pure, spiritual idea of infinite Mind, or God. Is it easy to pray in this way when what people are doing seems so wrong? No, it isn’t. But it’s a spiritual necessity because such prayer refuses to accept evil as the controlling reality. Our prayers insisting on the spiritual reality of God’s goodness and the purity of His creation can uncover whoever or whatever is encouraging such hateful behavior. And those engaging in it can have their eyes opened.
The benefit to all who pray in this way is that they themselves will be protected from the deleterious effects of hating, and be nurtured and comforted by dwelling mentally in the realm of divine Love. Such prayer also speaks of the Christ’s shepherding power, because the Christ redeems and blesses all people, not just a certain few.
In the final analysis, Jesus’ teachings and resurrection proved that good, not evil, prevails. This can be our prayer for all people and nations in the Middle East.