Winter is coming: The Arab Church needs us


Winter is coming.

These three words really have no practical meaning when you have a roof over your head, a designer coat, new jeans and a pair of boots made of genuine leather.

But imagine with me for a moment. Forget your coffee and your closet full of winter clothes. All you have is the shirt on your back, the outfit you had on when you were forced out of your home at 1 a.m., running to escape genocide.

That is life for the nearly one million displaced Christians in Northern Iraq. We cannot allow physical distance or theological differences to silence the urgent call for help. This is a threat to human rights on an international scale, and it affects everyone.

Johnnie Moore, chief of staff for Hollywood producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, just returned from a trip to Iraq and Jordan, assessing the plight of the Christian Church in the embattled region.

“(The situation) is every bit as bad as I expected,” Moore told me.

Many of the Orthodox Christians feel abandoned and forgotten by the West. Moore described them feeling as if the only time the Western Church cares is when they are trying to convert them to Evangelicalism.

“Christians were everywhere — on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in canvas tents that are not waterproof or winterized,” Moore wrote in a press release of his trip to Iraqi Kurdistan and Jordan. “Having survived eradication by terror groups (ISIS), they now might die naturally from the coming harsh winter.”

I would put the survival of the Arab Christians in the non-negotiable list. After running from their homelands to escape genocidal attacks from Islamic radicals, we cannot allow these people to perish. We privileged Christians so quickly forget that our faith has its roots buried deep in the mountains of the Middle Eastern world.

Burnett and Downey, two of Hollywood’s most outspoken Christians, are partnering with the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) to raise $25 million to help these Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria. According to the United Nations, 800,000 people in the area urgently need shelter, and 2.8 million are desperately seeking food.

“To lose the presence of Christians in the birthplace of Christianity is to accelerate instability, while losing precious insight about how best to work in the region,” IGE Director Chris Seiple, who accompanied Moore in Iraq, wrote in the announcement of the Cradle of Christianity Fund. “With the region on the brink, a strategy to rescue, restore and return fleeing Christians is not only the right thing to do, it is in everyone’s interest to do so.”

Winter is coming, so we must move now. And we cannot move alone.

Moore and Seiple met with King Abdullah II of Jordan and the patriarchs of the historic Eastern churches in the region. The Muslim leader is recognized as a direct descendant of Mohammed, so his insistence that Christians are crucial to the identity, stability and well being of Jordan is a big deal.

It is a big deal for the persecuted minorities in the Middle East.

It is a big deal, because Burnett, Downey, Moore and Seiple are not allowing their theological differences to deny help to those in need.

It is a big deal because, according to the UN, they admittedly will only be meeting the needs of 40 percent of the displaced minorities.

In his announcement of the $25-million plan, Seiple wrote that the partnership will honor God, include all demographics in a non-proselytizing way and seek the involvement of regional leaders.

The world is enormous, and the problems we face are expansive. To confine ourselves to working only with those we agree with is shortsighted, to say the least.

The fund, to which Burnett and Downey have already donated $1 million, is exactly what the Western Church needs to be doing — working with the majority of people to help the minorities, the persecuted, the forgotten and the abandoned.

“Donations will go through the churches directly to those who need it the most, and primarily through the Ancient Churches,” Moore said of how the partnership with Abdullah will work. “They know their communities best — where they are and their needs. We will also work to identify and vet other partners as we go.”

Partnership with those in the region is the only real way to solve this. They have the know-how and the relationships. All they need is the resources. With the help of Muslim, Christian and nonreligious allies, the collaborative effort will include three phases — “rescue, restore and return.”

The rescue phase will pour money into Iraqi and Syrian churches that best know how to identify and meet the needs of the native people, and it will provide winterized shelter. At the same time, the second phase, “restore,” will begin. A small amount of money will be designated to establish a center to hold records of wrongs committed against Christians and other minorities, while also housing stories of hope, redemption and partnership between Christians and Muslims.

The third phase, “return,” will aim to “rebuild multi-faith communities of citizens under a consensus constitution,” according to IGE’s strategy. The long-term goal is to facilitate reintegration once the region is secure. Ideally, moving the native Christians back to their homeland, to “maintain a Christian witness and religious diversity in the region.”

For today, winter is coming and Burnett and Downey wanted to act.

“(They) wanted to do something for religious freedom now — focused on the plight of Christians, but serving people of all faiths (or no faith),” Seiple wrote of the producers’ passion for the displaced minorities.

This is a crossroads for Christianity. A crossroads that cannot be ignored. A crossroads that is going to take everyone to solve.

“Things are very urgent,” Moore said. “We have to move fast. Winter is coming. This week’s rain will soon be snow.”

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