The Bridge of Faith from Charleston to Mosul
The Christians murdered in Charleston will meet Middle Eastern Christians in heaven.
JULIANA TAIMOORAZY — I walked the beautiful grounds of Notre Dame University on the first day of summer. Birds were chirping and playing. I walked toward the golden dome of its Basilica, wanting to sit on the steps of the church to rest a little and pray. Then came the bells. They rang loud and proud, sharply cutting the air around, penetrating every daydreamer’s thought and demanding our full attention.
They pulled me out of Indiana to thoughts of my ancestral homeland, Iraq. There the bells of 1800-year-old churches have been ringing in recent years, but not to invite people in. Instead they ring out warnings of enemy attacks, of ISIS and other extremists targeting Assyrian Christians for their ethnicity and their faith.
I was heartbroken last week when American Christians underwent such an attack in South Carolina. On Wednesday, June 9, 2015, America was shaken by the brutal murder of nine innocent African-American Christians who had gathered to worship and study the Holy Scripture. A young extremist with a ruthless ideology shot up that church in pursuit of a clear agenda. He even left one woman alive, not out of mercy, but so that she could tell the media what he had done. He wanted her to bear witness.
This massacre was as merciless as any we have seen against Christian churches in Iraq and Syria. To date, there have been 118 churches attacked — and in Iraq alone, since June 10, 2014, ISIS has been able to destroy 45 historic churches. For the first time in almost 2000 years, there are no more Christian worship services in Mosul. But there are thousands alive who bear witness.
Let me pass along the story of one such Islamic extremist attack, to highlight the common suffering of Christians that unites us, spanning the world.
On October 31, 2010, an Al-Qaeda affiliate group attacked Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, holding over 130 innocents hostage for five long hours. The Islamist ended their siege at 11 p.m., killing 58 Assyrian Christians, including infants and toddlers. One of the survivors remembers the attack vividly:
The gunmen stormed the church, then pushed everyone inside. The young men were sitting on the ground. He [the terrorist] said: “Shoot them, shoot them… shoot them all, don’t leave a single young man alive.” Then he [the terrorist] loaded his gun and shot Odai [the witness’s brother]. I was calling Odai but he did not answer. His son was shouting: “Enough”, asking his father to get up. He [the terrorist] said: “You people are infidels, you are going to hell. Even if we die, we will go to paradise. But you guys even you live, you will be living in hell.”
The grenades were all over the place. Adam [the witness’s nephew] was shouting and crying but I could not hold him. Adam got quiet. I used the light of my phone to see Adam’s face. He was completely burnt. It is necessary to mention that Adam was only three years old.
Amidst calamity, one discovers many things: anger, frustration, confusion, compassion, forgiveness, strength, resolve and empathy. As I have read the reports on reactions and the outrage among my fellow Americans regarding the Charleston tragedy, and as I have attended church services and have witnessed pastors praying for the victims of Emanuel AME Church, I have hoped that one good thing could emerge from all this evil:
I pray that this national heartbreak will drive more Christians in America to understand the pain that the Christians of the Middle East and North Africa are enduring — indeed, have suffered for centuries. Church leaders here have been shocked at the fact that a violent extremist could commit such a horror inside the sanctuary of a church. We Middle Eastern Christians can only nod in sad assurance: Our churches are typical targets and our priests along with their flock are marked for death.
More than a million Christians from Iraq and Syria have been displaced because of Islamist ideology. Thousands have been murdered for their belief in Jesus Christ in such countries as Egypt and Nigeria. All of this as the West sat silent.
Nine American Christians now also wear the crown of martyrdom, along with their Assyrian, Egyptian, Nigerian and Ethiopian brothers and sisters who are the victims of Islamic State, Boko Haram and other violent groups. We the people of God and the people of the United States have the power to create a better world, a more beautiful world, a world where religious freedom is upheld and honored. Let all who belong to Jesus, who belong to the human family, regardless of race or creed, unite against evildoers through prayer, education and support.
This article originally appeared at Philos Project, and is reprinted with that site’s permission.