Saturday, April 14, 2007

God at work in Iraq

"Is it possible we are seeing harvest time in Iraq?" I asked our hosts. We had just met over a dozen Muslim background believers in Christ--some natives of Iraq, some from Iran, some Turkmen, some Kurd--and one follower of Jesus from a religous sect called Kakayi--people who follow the Prophet Jonah in a form of worship that they hold completely secret. (We asked the now Christian man to describe what Kakayi worship looks like. Even though he no longer practices it, he would not say.)

And now, in the afternoon, our hosts had just finished telling us a number of astonishing stories of new faith in Christ. So many stories! I did not take notes, except for one. It seemed, almost, to "summarize" what we were hearing.

A young Arab Muslim from Baghdad had moved north to escape the fighting.

A follower of Christ from the United States, who moved to Iraq only a couple of months ago, befriended the young Arab within a couple of weeks of his arrival. One evening, the American returned home late--about 11 pm.

"How are you?" he asked. (But it is the normal polite greeting.)

"Not well!" the Arab replied. (A shocking, totally unexpected answer. Who says such a thing in response to "How ya doin'?" in the United States? Far less, who says such a thing when an American in a foreign country asks such a thing of a native?)

The American stopped. The Arab poured out his whole life's story: his frustration and disappointment with his father. The complete loss of relationship with his father. His attempt to replace his love for his father with love--near hero-worship--toward his older brother. But now the breakdown of relationship with his older brother.

"What should I do?" he asked.

The American replied: "Let us pray to Allah [God] and ask Him and be silent and listen and wait to see what He says."

So they prayed. And sat in silence.

The American, after a few minutes of silence, began to wonder: "What have I gotten myself into?" How long would it be before they decided they had been silent long enough.

But after about five minutes, the Arab broke the silence. "I know what I need to do," he said.

"You do?" asked the American.

"Yes. . . . I need to follow Jesus."

"Where did that come from?" I asked.

"Apparently, he had been seeking for something more back in Baghdad. This was just the time. . . ."

Other team members shared similar stories. One of the team leaders who has been in-country for several years noted that many have come to Christ in Kirkuk. He teaches them, and then, due to the violence and threats, they scatter. He teaches them, and they scatter.

At this point, a third generation of Jesus-followers doesn't even know about him. "The Gospel is becoming truly Iraqi."

He said many Muslims want to learn about Jesus, so they ask for the Jesus Film and other materials not only so they can watch, but so they can pass them on to friends--and the ones who are asking aren't necessarily even believers.

"A couple of Iranians were headed back to Iran. They wanted as many Jesus Film DVDs as we could give them. They brought a full suitcase back across the border. They want to start a church."

One guy I met, a Kurd, has led 18 others to faith in Christ in two years. And those he has discipled are discipling others. (One of his disciples was also present at the morning meeting . . . and the two of them were obviously leaders.)
In the midst of all the good news, however, there are also sobering stories.

First, stories of the hardships many new believers face. We need to lift the burdens of these brothers and sisters.
  • The brother whose wife keeps threatening to commit suicide if he does not revert. ["Self-immolation--where the person douses him- or herself with gasoline and lights him- or herself on fire--is fairly common in this area," someone said. Point: It is not a threat the man can take lightly.]
  • The brother (whom I met) whose wife has run away, with their daughter, back to her parents. He has no recourse. From her perspective, he must become a good Muslim again, or live without her and his daughter.
Then there are the temptations--many of them, sadly, brought on by western Christians! One that particularly struck me:
  • Two brothers who had been growing in Christ and had been doing good work as evangelists were approached by a certain western "mission" agency: "If you will work full-time in ministry, we will pay all your expenses. . . ."

    So now the brothers are "bought." They lose credibility with their peers, even though they have more time to devote to ministry.

    Such "bought" success stories are also very difficult to swallow for those who have done the hard work of planting, watering, cultivating . . . or enduring the pain associated with bringing to the point of birth and actually going through the birth process . . . only to have someone else, suddenly, take all the credit.

    But the team leader said, "I seek to remember the example of St. Paul: "By whatever means. . . ."
Oh. One last comment.

Someone noted that many Iranians hate their government. So they are turning to Communism. But then they grow disillusioned with Communism. So then they turn to Christ.

"It seems they find it easier to convert from Communism to Christ than directly from Islam to Christ."

". . . By whatever means. . . ."
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