A few years ago it would have been unthinkable to forecast the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East. We face that threat now. A new film Faithkeepers tells the story in graphic, heartbreaking detail.
Faithkeepers has been researched and produced by American Jews who live in Israel. The hour-long movie speaks with Christian refugees from Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. The horrors endured by these defenceless people are exposed. Throughout the production experts discuss the history, context and decline of Christianity in the region.
In an interview about Faithkeepers, Paula Kweskin, who produced the film for the Clarion Project said that the stories of the persecuted Christians is woefully under-reported by world media. “They always same the same thing,” she said. “We didn’t know how bad it actually is.” Then she added these sobering words, “When we consider the extent of persecution and what it means for the future of Christianity in the Middle East, we are talking about the possibility that Christianity (there), could become extinct.”
Paula Kweskin is highly qualified. She is a US-trained lawyer. Her focus is on human rights and international humanitarian law. She recently produced the award-winning film ‘the Honour Diaries’ which explored the mistreatment of women in Muslim majority societies.
The Faithkeepers executive producer was Roma Downey, a celebrated Emmy nominated actress who has starred for nine seasons in the hit CBS television show ‘Touched by an Angel.’ The entire production team is made up of highly qualified professionals. Faithkeepers opened recently in churches across the United States. Hopefully churches in Australia will seek to follow suit.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke at St, George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem May 7. He spoke specifically of the suffering and persecution of Christians. “Sometimes life has been better, sometimes it is less bad. But the nature of suffering is that when it is happening it is all-consuming,” he said
In the conflict zones of the Middle East, he said, every part of life was dominated by suffering. “That is true whether you are a Christian or not but in this region in addition to the suffering of war, conflict and the tragedies of death and injustice, Christians especially are experiencing persecution, are especially threatened.”
Referring to visits the previous week to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is home to 80,000 Syrians, and to Gaza and the Galilee, he said that, even on a brief visit to “probably the most complicated region of conflicts in the world”, suffering and injustice was evident.
“Whether it is the utterly disrupted lives of the refugees we met in Zaatari refugee camp last week, or the tears of the Iraqi Christians later that day, seemingly forgotten by the world, one sees endless heartbreak.
“In Gaza, there is heroism from the doctors at the hospitals, from patients and above all groups of women, but also the ever-looming fears. In Nazareth, across Galilee you hear the voices of anger, or of fear and insecurity, of division and of the impact of almost a century of struggle and conflict, that affect every inhabitant of the region, all of whom tell their stories of fear, of struggle.”
Last April, the New York Post offered a grim forecast. “Persecution of the world’s largest religion has intensified, especially in Muslim-dominated countries. Jihadists appear to have repeatedly carried out one of their oft-stated goals of erasing any trace of Christianity in some regions, while in others persecution against Christians and other religious minorities are being held at bay — for now.” (NYP 14 April, 2017)
NYP reporter Perry Chiaramonte painted drab chances for Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. In Egypt he quoted Robert Nicholson, from the Philos Project, a US-based advocacy group for Christians in the Middle East. “The Copts, like most Christians around the region, are victims of religious hatred. But they are also pawns in a larger game to destabilize ‘apostate’ Arab regimes and invite Western intervention.” Nicholson said.
We choose to actively pray into this situation or ignore it. There must have been a time when the possibility of a Jewish nation seemed impossible. The likelihood of Jews returning home could have been placed in the too hard basket. But brave men and women stood in the gap. They shared and believed Bible passages together and today Jews have returned home and they are in the very centre of Middle East activity.
Recently in my weekly Vision FM radio report I shared the story of the Iraqi Christians town of Qaraqosh. In the past fires were used by ISIS to burn crosses and churches. Today, little by little new fires are alight. Christians are returning. The first thing they do is burn old household items as a way of cleaning their homes and healing their memories.
Seventeen families have returned. They have commenced the laborious step-by-step process of new life, new hope. “We are burning our history,” one said.
ISIS fighters swept through the Ninevah plain, east of Mosul, in August 2014. 120,000 Christians were forced to flee from their homes. Qaraqosh had a pre-ISIS population of 50,000 but the terrorists emptied the town overnight.
The archbishop of Mosul, Yohanna Petros Mouche, was the first to move back to Qaraqosh, last April. The Church has set up funds to help with the reconstruction process. Najma Boutros is an old lady with a hunched back. Asked about recent events she said, “Why did I return? Where else would I go? I have lived here all my life, 87 years.”
Ron Ross is a Middle East consultant for United Christian Broadcasters (Vision FM). Previously he was radio news editor for Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem, Israel.
His career started at WINTV (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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