Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna was abducted in 2006 and was held a prisoner for 28 days by a militant group associated with al-Qaeda. The parish priest was a visiting lecturer at Babel College near Baghdad when his body guards were killed and he was taken away at gunpoint. While in isolation, he wondered what a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would mean for Christians and how they could survive. Outside of his cell, news of the abduction brought international attention and prompted Pope Benedict XVI to address the kidnappers to return the young priest. The Pope sent a message out to the assailants to release the priest at once so that he can return to the Christian community. After his ordeal, the Bishop challenges us on how on to respond in the face of evil. He pushes us to confront the fear of abjuring our faith during a crisis. We must be honest with ourselves as most of us would cave in and denounce our faith when faced with the possibility of death.
The bigger scope here is Christians face more persecution today than at any time in history. China, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are the worst places for Christians to practice their faith. Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are also noted for assault on believers. North, Central and South America are also seeing increases of Christian persecution. Remember American Pastor Saeed? He was take by authorities in Iran where he was starved and beaten in Evin Prison for having a Bible study. He was later released, but the practice of killing believers remains a common sick game. China reached a 300 percent increase in abuses towards believers as well and people can't share their beliefs openly or they will be tortured. Whether it is from jihadist regimes, Muslim mobs or genocidal terrorist armies, there is a dark war that we seem to be losing all over the world.
Christians make up 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people today and it's declining rapidly. The Italian-based Center for Studies on New Religions found that 90,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs worldwide in 2016. Some were murdered by Islamic extremists and others were killed by state and non-state persecution. "Those who think of Christianity as a religion of the powerful need to see that in many places it’s a religion of the powerless. And the powerless deserve to be protected," Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project shared with Foxnews.com. Bishop Hanna was another cog in the sick wheel of extremists. His experience enlightens us on the state of Christianity in the world. Here are thoughts to contemplate over one man's journey through hell.
Faith is not enough."Faith is not enough as the demons also believe," Bishop Hanna shared as he called believers to persevere against evil. Before the Iraq war there were over one million believers, now the estimates are as low as 200,000. The failure to stabilize the region has annihilated the faith. Just as Hanna was beaten until he renounced his faith, others experienced this as well. Most people confronted by ISIS were murdered or they fled the country leaving a vacuum in the area for more terrorists. Christians have long sought to live in peace within the greater community. They worked through the centuries by "Actively participated in the building of the nation and in the restoration of it's culture, proving themselves true citizens, without ever lending their support to an ethnic or religious utopia," he wrote. We need to stand up against injustice, not just talk about it. God gave us the responsibly and often we're too afraid to make our voices heard. Bishop Hanna used more than faith during his captivity--he tapped into a newfound power of perseverance.
We need to go through trials.David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA said "The spread of persecution has gotten worse, now hitting nearly every continent in the world. There were 23 Christians killed in Mexico specifically because of their faith.” We must endure and we must travel down the narrow road. What does that mean? The road in Bishop Hanna's experience was refusing to denounce Christ. The broader route would've have been to pledge allegiance to another god to save his life, but he didn't. Believers were faced with this choice and this was the reason an estimated 100,000 people fled their homes in Mosul, a city in a largely Christian region in Northern Iraq. "I have learned a lot about myself and about the relationship between the religions. I came back to Baghdad because I love Baghdad. I love Iraq and I love my people, so I wanted to continue working here as a priest. I also have a lot of Muslim friends here." Despite what happened, the Bishop is still serving his country and his people. The trial of his faith made him stronger.
Many feel forgotten by the world.Bishop Hanna said that believers do feel forgotten in the Middle East, especially by Europe. The Europeans do not know who they are or what "We do here, they know our church does not, they do not know how to pray." We need to let our brothers and sisters in Christ know that they are not alone. Pray over the crisis in the Middle East and ask God what you and the church can do. When we pray, we are in an offensive position to defeat the enemy. Jesus said that we will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because He overcame evil. Ask God to release His armies over the Middle East and soften the hearts of evil doers. The Bishop probably felt very alone in captivity, but he also said that he felt the prayers of many.
Forgiveness has power.We are told in Luke to bear with each other and forgive if we hold a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. People have the right to be angry and want justice in lieu of all the killings going on in the Middle East. In fact, God will give justice and judge those who deserve it. "Christ is love and love was never meant to be easy," wrote Bishop Hanna regarding darkness in the world. Love is seen as being weak, but it means endurance and this endurance will never surrender. "There are so many fanatical Muslims who now live completely different from our Muslim brothers and friends from the past. They think differently and they behave differently towards us Christians," he said in an interview with Angelus Press.
The world is a more dangerous place for Christians and for those who want to live out their faith peacefully. Despite facing death, Bishop Hanna will continue to preach love and serve the country that he loves. You can call his journey one of tenacity or perseverance and yet, it also mirrors the power of Christ in a way that is everlasting to the rest of the world.
People should be able to read the Bible or pray during their free time, banning such actions makes us no different from other totalitarian governments. What makes America different when we can't pray openly in our schools or when kids can't read the Bible during their personal time at school? They might not be taken to prison, but taking our freedoms away is an act of imprisoning people for their faith. Pretty much of what the Bishop experienced in the Middle East, we 're seeing it here as well in the states, but in another capacity.