Recently, several of my friends have expressed frustration that the PC(USA) seems silent on the violent persecution of Christians in Iraq, Syria and other places in the Middle East. They cite statements by Pope Francis and other leaders voicing concern that in Arab lands religious intolerance is on the rise ---- but my friends say they do not find leaders in the PC(USA) being similarly quoted in the media.
Frankly, what can the PC(USA) actually do? While some people would like to see our political leaders use armed force to protect the threatened Christians, President Obama has made it clear that there will be no "boots on the ground" from the U.S. Therefore, for many of the challenged Christians, they will need to remove themselves to a safer place ---- perhaps to a different country.
I recently read a story in The International New York Times entitled "Mosul's Christians find shelter in Jordan." The story told of three Christian families from the area around Mosul, Iraq, who had fled to Jordan, forced out by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters who had given them little choice. After capturing the city last June, these militants had given the Christians one day to make up their minds: convert to Islam, pay a tax, or be killed. The Times said that over 4,000 Iraqi Christians from Mosul had come to Jordan in the past three months.
Interestingly. The Times says that King Abdullah II of Jordan, a close American ally, has made the need for the continued presence of multiple religions in the Middle East a major talking point in recent years. But King Abdullah has done more than just talk! When the Islamic State (ISIS) stormed into Mosul, the Jordanian government threw open their country to Iraq's Christians despite rising tensions at home over waves of Syrian refugees whose presence has increasingly burdened ill-prepared Jordanian communities.
The article in The International New York Times went on to say that hundreds of the new and often traumatized Christian refugees now live in community halls in seven churches in Amman and nearby Zarga, trying hard to make do in places with little privacy or even enough necessities like toilets. Many of the other Christian refugees are living several families to a home, paying rent with their own money or with aid from international charitable organizations. Many more are crammed into refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
Besides providing shelter, various local churches feed the refugees with hearty portions of rice and vegetables paid for by the churches and by foreign charitable organizations. However, the latest Christian arrivals are not allowed to work in Jordan. This is an attempt to ensure they do not stay indefinitely in a country that previously granted citizenship to a large population of displaced Palestinians. Mostly, says The Times, displaced Christians appear haunted by the abrupt end to their lives in Iraq and to a Christian tradition that had survived in Mosul for more than 1,700 years.
So, is the PC(USA) actually doing anything to aid these displaced Christians? The answer is YES. It is not big, eye-catching, headline-fetching work ---- instead it is to provide resources and leadership on the "ground" level. PC(USA) facilitates more of a "people-to-people" approach. Here is an example:
Last August, members of CPC's "Members In Mission" Team, hosted a luncheon meeting with Greg and Chris Callison, PC(USA) missionaries based in northern Iraq. They were on home leave and visiting some twenty East Coast Presbyterian churches to tell the story of their Iraq outreach and to raise money to further their efforts to support displaced Christians. Their story was compelling.
The CPC Mission Team voted to give an unplanned $1,000 outright, and an additional sum to PC(USA) headquarters to help fund the Callison's pensions and travel expenses. This is a small sum, but if all 20 churches did the same, the total would go far in the Middle East.
The Callisons are each ordained Presbyterian ministers who have served in Iraq for several years, They are in their fifties, and are husband and wife. Not only are they fluent in the Arabic language, but it was clear from their luncheon presentation that their hearts are really into this difficult (and sometimes dangerous) Christian-to-Christian, person-to-person support work.
The Callisons said they hoped that each of the churches they were to visit on the East Coast would support the Callison's work with some kind of direct financial grant. The Callisons said they realized that the PC(USA) in Louisville was already overwhelmed with financial requests from worthy causes ---- to fight poverty, cure disease, etc., and to tell the story of Jesus, all in a very needy world.
The CPC Mission Team was touched by this person-to-person relief effort by the Callisons as PC(USA) missionaries. It seemed to touch our hearts more deeply than just voting to write a check to Louisville. The CPC Mission Team continues to look for more person-to-person opportunities to carry Christ's message, whether at home or overseas.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage you to pursue some personal spiritual growth this fall at CPC.