Some observations from my trip to Northern Iraq and Istanbul. As part of this trip I visited three churches, which in some ways were probably the most dangerous places I visited.
The first church I visited was in Northern Iraq. It is an Arabic-speaking church about an hour’s drive from the ISIS border. Having a cross in your car or on the side of your building is very dangerous and yet they do not hide the crosses and their church. They are truly people of the cross right in the shadow of ISIS. The pastor shared how their church has now served about 6,000 refugees; most of them are Muslims who are running from the terror of ISIS.
The second church I visited was in Istanbul. It is an open, public church and they have received death threats. One of the prayer items was to get the bullet proof glass installed soon on the front of the building so some of the members can start attending again. I joined in the pre-service prayer time in the Sunday school room upstairs looking out of the street and of course I understood why you would want to protect the Sunday school. Thankfully, new shatter proof glass has now been installed.
Our organisation is working closely with this church and a network of churches throughout Turkey to care for the refugees that the government cannot help.
The last service I attended was the Turkmen house church service in Turkey. I’m not sure how dangerous it is to be a Turkmen believer in Turkey, but it is life-threatening in Turkmenistan. I have a Turkmen brother I call a friend who has been beaten severely several times by the Turkmen police. He was left for dead with his family after the Turkmen KGB caused a deliberate car accident with a large truck in the middle of the empty Turkmenistan desert. The leader of the house group in Istanbul told me that they just sent six men back into their own country to continue to serve the church there.
So what have I learned from this trip? We watch the news with the horrors of the boiling Islamic world all the time. But we seldom see on the news just how the people of the Cross are standing up for their Saviour so willingly and being true witnesses for Jesus in some of the darkest and most difficult places. Churches are quietly serving refugees all around Syria and Iraq, even when their government tries to prevent them.
I would hate to see any of the people I met who are serving Jesus in those places suffer at the hands of terrorism. But it challenged me to think about my theology – the word that came to mind was ‘martyr’, but that word is actually the original Greek word for ‘witness’.