Middle East update
By Howard Stern, a Sussex-based negotiator and mediator
IN RECENT WEEKS there have been disturbing incidents in the Palestinian West Bank which severely challenge local Christians to hold fast to biblical principles in the face of persecution and discrimination.
Yet Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies, to forgive, bless and remember that when we are persecuted for his name’s sake, we ourselves are blessed. For Christians in the Middle East today, this is a tough call.
Attacks on Christian boys
In two separate attacks, Christian boys were threatened with death unless they converted to Islam. The attacks by radicalised Muslim boys occurred in their school classrooms – one incident even took place in a Christian school.
Similar events have taken place in Hebron, Bir Zeit and Jerusalem Universities where Christian students have had to withdraw because of beatings and intimidation.
Catholic school firebombed at Easter
In Gaza, the suffering of the remaining 1500 Christians continues unchecked while a small Catholic School there was firebombed over Easter.
Bethlehem pastor Naim Khoury, who was in the UK in May, has himself been shot four times and his churched bombed 14 times. A close friend told me her 15 year old brother was recently told by his teachers not to wear his cross to when attending an UNWRA school in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp for his exams, as he’d surely be beaten.
Monastery’s land stolen
At the Al Izaria orthodox monastery, 20 minutes south of Bethlehem, radicals have stolen land and are building on it illegally. The monastery’s cry for justice and help has gone unanswered.
Cairo cathedral atrocity
This rising tide of persecution and discrimination is, however, not limited to the Palestinian territories. Cairo’s St George’s Cathedral was badly attacked over Easter with many worshippers suffering great cruelty at the hands of frenzied mobs. Two Christian girls were publicly raped and men were set on fire – with security personnel standing by observing.
Syrian women attacked
In Syria two leading church figures have been kidnapped with most Christians living in constant fear. Women and children are being raped in the western funded refugee camps by rebel forces – forces now heavily infiltrated by radical groups such as the Mulim Brotherhood and Al Quaeda; forces the British Government is supporting with “non-lethal equipment.”
In Iraq, the population of Jews once in the hundreds of thousands, is now just six. They live under the protection of the Canon Andrew White in Baghdad; Canon White’s adopted Iraqi son told me recently how many bodies/body parts he’d pulled out of their church after numerous bombings.
Events confirm the scriptures
So against this backdrop of depressing news, what does our God require of us, indeed what should we be thinking? Jesus told us persecution would come upon the Church and his words are coming true before our very eyes, so I believe we should be encouraged. Because the scriptures foretold of all these events, what we are seeing confirms their authenticity.
Presented with such evidence in the physical of things written so long ago tells me I can rely completely on God’s word. So we should actually be encouraged, not fear, and seek to root ourselves deeper in God’s infallible nature so that when these storms come closer to home, as they will, we will not fall.
A warning to our nation
Woolwich attack was no terrorist incident – it was Sharia law on the streets of London
Ironically perhaps, as this item was going to press, the terrible news broke about a young soldier being beheaded outside Woolwich Barracks. The Government stated it was a terrorist attack but it was no terror attack. That statement was issued to isolate the event and prevent civil unrest.
The reality was that two radicalised Islamists acted out Sharia law, which, barbaric as it was, is daily fare in many radical Islamic states including the likes of the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and others.
Such acts must serve to motivate us to pray more, not only for our brothers and sisters being persecuted elsewhere, but for God’s grace and mercy on this nation which has moved so far from his will. God always warns before acting.