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The military might of Russia, the US and many other countries have backed ISIS into a corner so that they can no longer round up and execute Christians, however the situation still remains dire in much of the Arab world.
In a Christian Post interview with Open Doors USA, a Christian ministry worker by the name William described the situation in recently-liberated Mosul, a city that ISIS had brutally taken and held for months. He said, "They are telling us that ISIS has been defeated, but ISIS is still in the minds of the people."
Increasingly, where Christians and Muslims used to live side-by-side in mixed faith communities, Muslims are rejecting the return of their old Christian neighbors. "You have the Muslim villages around the Christian area, where some of the Muslims don't want the Christians to come back, and they are very vocal about it."
Wearing a cross or possessing a Bible is now an invitation for violence, and even murder. Those who have ventured back to rebuild, and even to share their faith with others, run extreme risks.
When ISIS pulled out of Nineveh in 2016, many of the homes had already been destroyed by bombs and intense urban warfare. Nevertheless, they set chemical fires in 70% of the Christian homes. Now returning Christians find their belongings destroyed, their homes burned, and their neighbors taught to hate them for their faith.
William's ministry has helped to repair 1,500 homes already but, in most cases, there are no jobs, no clean water, no sewage systems and broken electrical grids. And yet they persist; they hold the faith.
The message of Islam is sometimes a persuasive one in lawless areas overcome by criminals and chaos. This is because it offers the promise of peace and order under the absolute submission to Islamic law and Islamic beliefs. But for those who hear the Gospel, their eyes are opened to the power of love rather than the sword, of forgiveness rather than retribution and of peace as a goal rather than a state of absolute victory.
So despite the challenges faced by Christians in Iraq, Algeria, Libya and elsewhere throughout the Arab world, evangelism is alive and Muslims are converting to Christianity once again, though at great personal risk.
As William describes the situation, conversions to Christianity represent extreme danger not only from neighbors but also family members, "The minute it comes out [that a person has converted to Christianity], the family will kill the person" or respond with violence.
Arab Christians aren't the only believers to have reason to fear either. William went on to say, "We know of one of the Kurdish Christians whose brother found a Bible under his pillow while he was on duty fighting on the front lines. His wife had to call him and told him 'your brother found the Bible, you have to run." If he had not, his brother would have tried to kill him.
In regions where Christians are tolerated rather than exterminated, possessing a Bible is permitted, but having two Bibles marks a person as someone with the intent to evangelize, explains William, and will bring swift punishment. After many started to read the Bible on smart phone apps, some police in Iraq and other counties have started demanding to search phones of pedestrians to check for such apps, which are often illegal to possess in the local language.
Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq has been trying to mend the immense and painful rift that has opened between Christians and Muslims following the anti-Christian genocide of the last 15 years that saw an Iraqi Christian population dwindle from 1.5 million in 2003 to less than 200,000 today.
In contrast to the Islamic doctrine of pseudo peace (submission) through conquest and political control, the Archbishop has publicly stated, " We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them in the name of Christ." And those who, despite the odds, continue to preach this message are those in most danger as they spread the message of salvation and the Kingdom of God, not through the sword but through the truth of Christ's sacrifice.
Iraq and Syria are far from alone in this absolutist and anti-Christian attitude in the Islamic world. Throughout the Muslim world, the act of evangelization is itself a crime that carries stiff punishment and in many countries, conversion from Islam can be punished by death.
In Algeria, a wife accused her husband and one of her husband's friends of trying to convert her to Christianity. The 67-year-old Rachid Ouali and his friend Ali Larchi were brought up on charges after Ouali's wife filed a criminal complaint that the two men had shared testimonials of their faith with her.
Originally she had accused them, under pressure of her family, of bringing her to a church and urging to leave Islam, but she later revealed that they had done no more than share their beliefs of God's goodness over a lunch in which they mentioned Jesus and said "Hallelujah" to each other.
As this,by itself, is a crime in Algeria, their fate remains uncertain. In filing her complaint the wife, whose brothers are policemen, has triggered for her own husband the Law 03/06, which imposes a fine of $4,343 to $8,687 and a prison term of 2-5 years for anyone who attempts to convert a Muslim to another religion.
The case is but one of thousands of how the legal system is also used across the Islamic world systematically to marginalize, prosecute and eliminate Christianity. The Christian population of Algeria is estimated at 68,500 among a total Muslim population of 40 million, and the laws currently in place make sharing the Gospel, even with friends or family, a risky proposition.
Increasingly violent reactions to missionary work as well as the very presence of Christians themselves in Islamic countries mean that believers risk everything when they decide to share their faith in a region that is increasingly hostile to the followers of Christ.
The intolerance of ISIS, even as the terror group experiences its last death throes, has echoed throughout the world and inspired a generation of hatred against Christians that will be difficult to turn back. But that is what we are called to do: counter hatred with love, vengeance with forgiveness and death with the message of salvation through Christ. Pray for those brave enough to continue to face such dangers with an uncompromising faith.