Religious leaders issue prayer appeal as spate of killings decimate Christian community in Iraq

Religious leaders issue prayer appeal as spate of killings decimate Christian community in Iraq

PC(USA) leaders send letter to al-Maliki, prayer request to church by Jerry L. Van Marter
Presbyterian News Service

Religious leaders around the world, including those in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), are asking their members to pray for the Christian community in Iraq and particularly the northern city of Mosul, where more than two dozen Christians have been murdered in recent days by militant Sunnis.

Mosul, the second most populous city in Iraq, is the site of the ancient biblical city of Nineveh and home to one of Iraq’s five Presbyterian-Reformed congregations.

Hundreds of Christians have fled Mosul since the spate of killings began.

The Rev. Duncan Hanson, area coordinator for Europe and the Middle East for the Reformed Church in America and former area coordinator in Europe for the PC(USA), met in Damascus last week with the PC(USA)’s area coordinator for the Middle East Victor Makari and an elder from the Mosul church.

Hanson told the Presbyterian News Service that the elder said, “The Mosul church is the oldest in Iraq, having been established in 1840. Our congregation has had a long and glorious succession of pastors. Over the years these pastors also ministered to the Muslim community. It was out of the Mosul church that God sent missionaries to Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere to plant new congregations. We Iraqi Reformed and Presbyterian people call Mosul our ‘mother church.'”

Many PC(USA) missionaries have serve the Mosul church over the years. When Saddam Hussein seized power in 1979, the Mosul church fell on hard times and nearly closed. Only pastoral home visits by the minister of the Kirkuk church preserved the Christian community in Mosul. 

With the loosening of restrictions on church activity in 1990, the Mosul congregation began to rebuild itself, the elder told Hanson and Makari. Pastoral duties were provided by the Rev. Haitham Jazrawi of the Kirkuk church and the congregation elected three elders “who carried out the majority of the ministry of our congregation,” the elder said.

In 2001-2002, two successive Egyptian pastors served the Mosul church, which grew to about 75 families and conducted extensive outreach to villages around Mosul.

“Missionaries and evangelists from Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere flocked to Iraq and particularly Mosul after the American invasion in 2003. But the newfound religious enthusiasm and activity was short-lived “due to a radically new phenomenon: terrorism,” the elder said. 

Internationals — including the Egyptian pastor — fled Iraq and by the end of 2004 the ministry of the Mosul Presbyterian-Reformed church was back in the hands of the three elders.

The situation has steadily deteriorated since then, the elder told Hanson and Makari. Death threats — face-to-face and by telephone — became a steady occurrence and in 2006 one of the three Mosul Presbyterian elders was kidnapped and killed.

“That was a big shock to the church,” the elder said. “Many of our faithful began to withdraw and not come to church anymore. The church was closed for several months.”

While church members continued quiet outreach to members and the community, they debated the wisdom of reopening the church building for public worship and activities. “Those who wanted to reopen the church prevailed,” the elder said. “Now the church is open again.”

But only 27 families remain in the Mosul church. “Ministry in Mosul is now extremely difficult.  Every Sunday morning, I have to call the custodian, who lives near the church, to ask if it is safe in the neighborhood to come to church.  If the custodian says it is not safe, I call all 27 families to tell them we will be meeting in different private homes,” the elder said.

On Oct. 12, Kirkuk’s pastor Haitham Jazrawi sent the following email:

“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ the Lord,

This email is a prayer request for Iraq, the people in general and especially the city of Mosul (known also as Nineveh) and the Christians there.

During the last 4-5 days, around 25 Christians (some say 40) were killed in the streets in different parts of the city for religious and political causes. In the past people used to be kidnapped, threatened, and a ransom was paid to be freed. Now they’re being killed without prior notice and the government hasn’t done anything so far. Even the media didn’t cover it until the third day.

Many Christians fled to the nearby villages and cities where they’re living under severe conditions (families are actually sleeping in their cars). Fear and worries fill the place.

We’re praying for the terrorists who think that they’re doing so for God to wake up and know who’s the real God. We’re praying for the believers and the nominal ones to get closer to Jesus, for the many families who lost a loved one, their houses and money that they’ll never forget that no matter what we lose, we’ll still have the places Jesus is preparing for us in Heaven.

And finally, we’re praying for Christians who live in the safer area that they remember and do as Jesus asked: “For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Christ’s, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward” (Mark 9:41).

We’re starting to fast to three days for Iraq and its people like the days people of Nineveh fasted at the time of Jonah. For that our suffering will turn the eyes towards our savior. Let’s lift our hands together asking for Peace from the King of peace in Jesus’ name.

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

Grace and peace to all of you. 

On Oct. 13, World Alliance of Reformed Churches President Clifton Kirkpatrick and General Secretary Setri Nyomi, responded to the desperate situation in Mosul by asking all members of WARC’s 270 member churches around the world to pray for the Christian community in Iraq and especially Mosul.

The full text of the Oct. 13 appeal for prayer from WARC president Clifton Kirkpatrick and general secretary Setri Nyomi:

Dear friends,

Our sisters and brothers in Iraq have made a passionate appeal for us to join them in prayer. WARC joins in this call and asks for prayers for the people of Iraq.

WARC has for a long time articulated the evil inherent in the large numbers of Iraqi people (both Muslim and Christians) who have been killed in the Iraq war. During the last week alone at least 25 Christians have been killed around the city of Mosul (the city at the location of the Biblical nineveh). Some Christians have abandoned their homes and have migrated to other countries.

Let us keep all Iraqis in our prayers – especially the families who have lost loved ones in this senseless spate of killings. Let us pray for peace to return to Iraq. Let us pray that all the peoples of Iraq will be able to overcome the violence and together build communities of peace and justice.

We use this occasion to also draw your attention to the turbulent political situation in Thailand. Our churches in Thailand have called on us to accompany them in prayer. Let us pray for all those in positions of responsibility in Thailand, that they might use their influence to bring about peace with justice. Let us pray for the people of Thailand and especially in the churches that the people may be willing to reconcile with those who hold differing views. Please also pray for the victims of violence on all sides, especially for those who have lost loved ones.

May God bless you as we join hands in praying for our sisters and brothers in these and many other difficult situations in the world.

On Oct. 14, leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — General Assembly Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow, General Assembly Council Executive Director Linda Valentine and General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons — joined the effort, sending a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urging Iraqi government protection for their Christian citizens, and sending a letter to all Presbyterians asking them to join in prayer for the Christian community in Iraq.

The full text of the letter to Nuri al-Maliki:

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki:

We write to you today out of a grave sense of concern for the Christian community of Mosul. As any other minority in Iraq, they should be defended against the recent terrorist acts, which seem intended to eliminate the Christian presence in the region.

News reports, and the personal accounts of members of the Iraqi Presbyterian church, have drawn particular attention to the escalating violence against Christians in that region, as over two dozen Christians have been killed (others have been wounded), and more than 1,000 Christian families have fled the city.

We are grateful for your intervention which sent additional police to Mosul, ordered an investigation into the attacks on Christians, and pledged to take all steps to protect the Christians of that area. Early reports indicate that your steps have diminished the violence.

The Christian community in Mosul is one of the oldest in the world. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a long history of engagement with Iraqi Christians, dating back to the early 1800’s, with a special emphasis on education, health care, and social service to all Iraqis as well as on church development. But both before and since our connections with our sisters and brothers there, Christians have been an integral part of the history and culture of your country.

Our church’s General Assembly, this past June, adopted a call of concern for all the people of Iraq, urging our members to: 

“Pray for, call for, and work for a just and peaceful future for the nation and people of Iraq which includes the establishing of a just, stable, and democratic government and the timely departure of U.S. military forces and their contractors as soon as it is possible to leave the nation in an appropriately stable, just, and self-sustaining form.”

We are grateful for your efforts to establish a just and peaceful future for the nation and people of Iraq. As you continue these efforts, we ask that you ensure the security of Christians within your nation. The situation in Mosul is very desperate. Along with the rest of the world we are watching and praying that you will move to restore order.

The full text of the prayer appeal to all Presbyterians, which is being posted on Reyes-Chow’s moderator statements Web site:

We are profoundly alarmed by the reports coming out of Iraq of the increasing, targeted acts of terror and violence against Christians in Mosul.

We lament the violence and destruction that have been happening in Iraq since the beginning of the war. This latest news of what appears to be religious cleansing adds yet another layer of concern.

The roots of Christianity in Mosul are deep, going back to ancient times. An Iraq without a Christian presence is contrary to what has historically made the Iraqi society a model of harmonious inter-religious relations, and portends a future marked by intolerance and fanaticism.

Word that the government of Iraq has increased its security forces in Mosul to help stem this most recent violence is encouraging. We have sent a letter to the Iraqi leadership, calling on them to continue efforts to protect all Iraqi citizens – Christians and Muslims – from acts of terror and violence that are aimed toward the systematic destabilization of the country.

We call on Presbyterian leaders and leaders of other religious communities to work together as people of faith to continue to teach, encourage and practice tolerance toward people of faith traditions other than their own.

We also continue our call to the United States government to take responsibility for supporting the Iraqi government as it establishes a just, stable, and democratic government.

Our concern for the safety and well-being of Christians stretches beyond Iraq to India, China, and other parts of the world where violence and an attitude of religious intolerance are present.

Wherever such an attitude is present – regardless of the religious affiliation or motives of those who hold it – humanity is diminished and the reality of God’s peaceable realm is pushed farther away.

Please join us in continued prayers for peace and the safety of all people – and especially for Christian brothers and sisters who are living under the threat and reality of violence.