Yesterday afternoon (Oct. 1) on the commute home I listened to an NPR report from Kurdistan. A high ranking Kurdish official was describing the refugee crisis in Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). There were the tremendous numbers of refugees of different ethnic origins escaping the murderous ISIS fighters. Among other things, the official recounted that the different refugee communities, Christian, Yazidis, and others, were “coming together” in cooperation and shared suffering.
Earlier this month, as I prayer over the situation I had felt in my spirit that this tragedy was also a tremendous opportunity for the advancement of Christianity in this region. Yes, in spite of numerous churches destroyed, men murdered and women kidnapped and enslaved, etc. there is also a Holy Spirit opportunity here. When the First Temple was destroyed it too was an awful tragedy. Many Jews died in the war and the survivors were forced marched to Babylonia. But there they formed, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the institution of the synagogue — the prototype of the local church. This was them passed on to Christianity. Thus, great good came out of great calamity.
Several things are happening in the background to what is happening in Iraq that may signal a great Holy Ghost revival in the region. First, even before the ISIS crisis there was a revival and amazing growth of Christianity in Kurdistan. The Kurds had been mistreated by the Muslim governments in Damascus and the Ottomans before them. Even though Muslim themselves, the Kurds have been especially open to the Gospel in recent decades. Part of this is their admiration for and appreciation of American protection — recall the Bush “no-fly zone” against Saddam Hussain’s government, etc. There is also the factor that the Lord is visiting many Muslims in dreams and visions, and not being cessationists, Kurdish Muslims take dreams and visions seriously. Thus, an indigenous “secret church” has been growing and flourishing in many parts of Kurdistan.
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The Christian communities of Iraq, Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian, Syriac, etc. were often of very ancient origins and had splendid liturgies and churches. But under centuries of Muslim domination they had accommodated to a pious, highly liturgical, but non-evangelical form of life. This is not a criticism, since the penalty for evangelization was death. They did well just to survive. Now they have lost their beautiful churches, vestments for priests, icons, etc. But as many of us “exiled” Episcopalians have learned after leaving our beautiful churches, going “light” can be a blessing. The real Church is the people of God, not the buildings, alter settings, church paintings, etc.
Iraqi Christians living in their temporary camps don’t have to defend their churches or icons. They are now free to relearn the art and grace of evangelization in the much freer environment of Kurdistan. They have an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ and exercise evangelization among their fellow Yadizi and Muslim tent neighbors. PTL!
Further, most Christian from the ancient and liturgical denominations in Iraq know little or nothing of the gifts of the Spirit. Their leaders are contemptuous of any such giftings among the lay persons as a heretical Protestant innovation. This is really a demonic “stronghold” that influences many in the ancient liturgical churches. It has only recently begun to break up in the Coptic Church in Egypt under the amazing preaching and satellite television ministry of Fr. Zacharias Botros. For information on this amazing evangelist and "Apostle to the Arabs" see HERE
· That the various Christian groups and churches in Kurdistan such as the indigenous “secret churches,” the Catholics, the Assyrian and Syriac churches, lay down their suspicions and cooperate and pray together for the further evangelization of Kurdistan.
· That the Kurdistan autonomous government give great leeway (look the other way) at the evangelization activities of the Christians in Kurdistan.
· That the ancient churches in Iraq and now in Kurdistan accept the gifts of the Spirit as truly biblical, and a great asset to their effective Christian witness. Further, that they come to understand that being Spirit-filled does not mean ending their identity with their ancient liturgies and traditions.
· That the youth gangs of Muslim “toughs” who have been intimidating and abusing new converts and house churches in Kurdistan be restrained and stopped (and ultimately converted to zealousness for Christ).
Lastly, several weeks ago, at the beginning of the ISIS offensive, I posted on Facebook this psalm for the Churches in Kurdistan. Use it, modify it or start from scratch to do better (I bet you can). It might be prayed and read at mid-week service, or perhaps Sunday during the "prayers of the people."
A Psalm for Kurdistan in Turmoil
Evil seems to be winning,
As the forces of darkness celebrate victories,
And the demons dance in glee.
Ancient Christian communities are destroyed,
Cathedrals and churches ransacked and ruined,
Ancient libraries burned.
The lives of Believers snuffed out,
Cruelly in crucifixions and mass executions.
What joy it gives to the Principalities and Powers,
As the demons in hell rejoice.
The Yazidis are massacred and driven from their homes,
Little children perish in the bareness of a mountain top.
And old men and women murdered by machinegun fire.
As if it were a small thing, and approved by heaven.
Islamists enjoy these atrocities in the darkness of their minds,
And in their confusions from a scriptures that are not the Word of God.
They even post them on Your-Tube,
As if they were boasting of winning a baking contest.
But now Lord, let your providential hand turn evil into good,
And the Devil’s doings into Divine Providence.
Let the prayers of the Saints move the hand of events.
Let the Christians who have fled find refuge and refreshment
As they settle into the villages and cities of Kurdistan.
Let their new neighbors see their goodness,
And be astonished by their spirit of forgiveness.
With your guiding hands, Lord Jesus,
Let the Yazidis also find consolation and accommodations,
As they rest from the horrors they experienced.
Their prophets of old had sought the Spirit of God in the twirling dances of Sufism
Now, in Kurdistan, let them find the true Spirit of God,
As their fellow exiles show them the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Let a new and magnificent church arise in Kurdistan
Seeded with the tears and blood of Christians and Yazidis.
Healed by the name of Jesus and empowered by the Spirit of God,
The true Spirit, that points to the true scriptures.
Let the Muslims of Kurdistan note of the healing presence of God.
“How did these Christians and Yazidis recover so quickly? What is their secret?”
What is this “Spirit” they talk about?”
“Can Jesus be more that a prophet, and really the son of God?”
Let the world be astounded by the new Church in Kurdistan.
Is it Yazidis? Is it Assyrian Christian? They will wonder.
But your Holy Spirit will be so present,
And the Love of Jesus so manifest with signs and wonders,
That the question will be of little importance.
Let the Churches of Kurdistan shine in the glory of God.