Spare a Christmas prayer for the suffering MidEast Christians
This Christmas, spare a prayer for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, oppressed and terrified as never before. They need to know that our thoughts are with them
For most of us, Christmas Day is a day for staying warm inside, exchanging presents, spending time with family (and eating too much) -- or if you’re not that way inclined maybe you just sit at home and watch TV.
Many people will go to church today for the only time this year. In the mindset of countries that have had a Christian heritage, it somehow feels right to involve God at some point in the proceedings, even if we’ve forgotten that he’s somehow “the reason for the season”.
This year, maybe more than any other year I can remember, many thousands of Christians around the world will not be able to celebrate one of their biggest festivals. It will be out of fear of reprisals, or because they have been forced out of their house and village and far from any church, or because their government forbids any expression of their faith, or some similar reason.
Whatever the reason, events have conspired to make Christians quite possibly the most persecuted minority in the world. We have seen the news items from Iraq and Syria of people already living in poverty being forced to leave behind the little they had and flee from rape, slavery or death.
It is not widely publicised that the Palestinian Christians of the West Bank, Gaza and, yes, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, are also a persecuted minority. It does not suit Western media and NGOs to publicise the problems Christians face at the hands of Muslim Palestinians every day; to the extent that one well-known Christian church in Bethlehem has water buckets at the door to deal with fire bombs.
While Bethlehem still has a Christian mayor every year, it is no longer the majority Christian town it used to be before international agreements gave it to Yasser Arafat as an “Area A” town.
The only country in the Middle East that allows complete freedom of religion for Christians is Israel, the place and culture Jesus himself came from. It is the only Middle Eastern state with a growing Christian population. Coincidence? Irony? Or part of the divine plan? Take your pick.
The wider Middle East has long been home to a number of small, often isolated Christian sects and groups. Some even still speak Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago.
The civil war in Syria and more recently the aggressive rise of Islamic State have highlighted the precarious position of these groups.
Christians have always been a minority in this region, but never before have they been so comprehensively threatened with extinction as coherent communities.
Scattered, impoverished, fleeing for their lives, shivering in refugee camp tents with scant food for their families, thousands of Christians are suffering this Christmas just for being Christians and for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In all their hardship, one thing these suffering communities appreciate highly is to know that their brothers and sisters around the world are praying for them; petitioning our common Father God on their behalf. Christians believe that we will never know the results of all our prayers until we reach heaven, but we have a duty as co-religionists down here to offer spiritual support as well as practical aid.
So this Christmas, spare a prayer for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Pray for their faith to be strengthened to give them the perseverance to survive until times improve and they once again have the freedom to worship the Jesus we celebrate the birth of today.
Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick, who is a regular contributor to The Commentator, blogs at cmewonline.com
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