I've recently started reading "I am n", a collection of stories, put together by The Voice of the Martyrs, from the lives of Christians facing Islamic extremists around the world today. It aims to bring to light the suffering of so many Christians across the world who will not compromise their faith even when faced with severe persecution.
One chapter tells the story of Abu Fadi, a Christian living outside Mosul, Iraq at the time when ISIS took over the city in June 2014. He had received a phone call from a friend warning him that the terrors they had heard about in other cities was now on their own doorstep and he feared for his family who lived inside Mosul. As ISIS troops entered the city, chaos and gunfire broke out with prisoners being freed and the cross on the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of Mar being torn down. Christians packed up their belongings and fled but Abu's disabled mother and sister were unable to do so. Their house was marked with the Arabic letter 'n', symbolising that here lived Christians, known as 'Nazarenes' and they were told that they must leave immediately or else they would be converted to Islam at gunpoint.
Eventually, the two women were able to reach Abu through the help of a Muslim friend who drove them out of the city. From there they began their journey to the relatively safe city of Erbil along with almost forty thousand others also fleeing from the surrounding areas. They were stopped at an ISIS checkpoint along the way and Abu was questioned, answering truthfully that they were Christians and were not permitted to remain in their homes. The guards refused to let them leave, giving them instead the choice of converting to Islam or being killed. After much discussion and pleading, Abu was forced to his knees and given a final chance to denounce his faith in Jesus which he refused, praying instead for strength, wisdom and courage. Just as he was waiting for the sword to come down on him, another ISIS official arrived and, inquiring on the situation, ordered that they be left to continue on their way with the message that ISIS would be victorious throughout the whole world.
After being stopped several times along the way and having most of their valuables taken away from them, Abu and his family were finally able to reach Erbil. Despite the poor conditions and lack of food and water to go around amidst all the refugees, they thanked God for his protection and presence.
I find stories like these inspiring and challenging. For many people in the world, what they believe in defines the rest of their lives; what opportunities they will have, how they will be treated by their societies and in some cases, whether they live or die. Yet, for Abu and many others like him, the cost of following Jesus is worth it. His hope in Jesus as his saviour for eternity was more real to him than the threat of death for himself and his family and he was willing to prove it. The stories of these courageous Christians who stand for their beliefs in the midst of suffering, responding with humility and forgiveness, must be heard. With this blog, I hope to contribute to making the plight of some of these many unsung heroes of faith known.