We rejoiced when we heard the news of Asia Bibi arriving safely in Canada to join her family there after years of imprisonment. However, this outcome is the better of two evils, not a good one. Because it remains a tragedy when Christians have to leave their homelands.
On a much greater scale, we have seen Christians leave the Middle East. The war on terror, the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS, have all meant that the ancient Christian communities have been under great pressure. Iraq is a case in point.
The Atlantic recently carried an excellent article about how the ancient Christian communities are disappearing from Iraq. It is well worth reading and thinking about.
There were a few things in this article that are particularly worth considering for Christian communities in the West. Firstly, the great heartache people experience when they leave their homes. One couple quoted in the article spoke with so much longing of the joys of their home town, the smells, the foods, the festival decorations, and most of all the people. They had a strong community where their ancestors had lives literally thousands of years. They belonged. Now they are strangers. Although they know they have made the right decision to keep their families safe, the pain is real.
Secondly, for many in the West, Christianity is something you can simply acquire by saying a sinner’s prayer. It is your personal conviction, and wherever you move, you can be a Christian and find yourself a church. But for many Christians in the Middle East, there is more than just personal conviction. As Christian communities they have fascinating histories, going back directly to the apostles. Their liturgy is ancient. They have their own languages and ethnic identities. Their faith is fully embedded in a community and a culture. Leaving that behind tears people off their roots. And once they arrive in America or elsewhere, it may only take a generation or two before the language and the culture is lost and the children of the immigrants fully integrate in their new homelands. And will these second and third generations be able to hold on to their faith in such a different context?
Lastly, there is the sense of what the land loses. The article, from a secular viewpoint, bemoans the loss of diversity and tolerance to minorities. But spiritually speaking, countries like Iraq need the Christian communities in their midst, to be a testimony of the gospel and to bless their nation with their prayers and their faithfulness. Every Christian that finds safety in the West means a loss for the Christian community and for the country of origin.
There are brave Christians that choose to stay in the face of danger, as well as those who do not have the means to leave. They deserve our prayer and support. But so do the many, who felt they had to protect their families by leaving. May they find shelter with us as well as bless our churches with the insights God has given them over the centuries.