The ancient country that is now Iraq has a population of about 35.5 million.These are made up of the original Aramaic speaking ethnic Assyrians and a smaller number of Armenians, along with the majority Kurds and Arabs who migrated there later.
Christians there are mostly of Assyrian and Armenian origin, and trace their history back to the first century apostles, notably Thomas and Thaddeus. Their numbers have fluctuated over the centuries especially during times of persecution following the Arab Islamic conquest in the 7th century with a large increase in population of Arab and Kurdish Muslims, and then during the years when the country was a part of the Ottoman Empire.
In 2003 there were some 1.5 million Christians about 6% of the population.
Today their numbers have fallen to around 250,000 due to the rise in persecution by so called Islamic State terrorists, which has led to a hardening of attitude to Christians by resident Muslims influenced by that period of IS control. This showed in an increase in social control by the authorities, especially over the role of women and of stricter Islamic religious observance.
Consequently Christians have been fleeing from that country in the face of this terrible action. Under IS control they were given a choice of converting to Islam, pay the tax for religious minorities, to flee, or face being killed, and kidnappings, murders, and destruction and confiscation of property became an everyday occurrence.
Since the defeat of most of the IS factions, though there are still a few pockets still in operation,
and the return to a more democratic form of government it was hoped that the plight of Christians would have been better. Sadly, the hardened attitude to Christians has continued. Church closures and discrimination of Christians is commonplace especially where congregations have become unviable.
While many have fled to Kurdistan, Syria and neighbouring countries, still more undertake the hazardous journey to Europe hoping to start a new life, as we still see on our news programmes all too often.
We still hear about the good work done at St George’s Church in Baghdad, where the Christian community offer help and welfare to all who ask regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
In the grounds they have a clinic where patients can see doctor, nurse, dentist, have tests or collect prescribed medicines. They also have a kindergarten and are hoping to have a school before too long.
There are a few other church communities hanging on and providing help to all who need it, but as people leave, often seeking a safer haven, they are getting fewer.
Not all Muslims are anti Christian, and wish that they would stay and not leave the country, but the struggle and difficulties prove too much for many and they seek safety elsewhere.
● Thank God for the defeat of Islamic State, and pray that the last enclaves of it’s evil and hate filled influence will be destroyed, and that many will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
● Thank God for the Christian Church in Iran, and pray for protection for them in their daily lives.
● Pray for the work at St George’s and other churches like it that they will be a beacon of light in the darkness around it. Pray for the provision of resources that they need to carry out their humanitarian work and through it to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus.
● Pray for all refugees, especially Christians. Pray for those in refugee camps, those trying to get to Europe, and those still seeking refuge. Ask God to provide protection, provision and shelter.
● Pray for the Iraqi government that it will foster protection, and a more tolerant attitude to all peoples especially Christians and other minorities.