The Middle East and North Africa have witnessed a remarkable tempestuous time in the last 3-4 years, leading to epidemic of insecurity and instability in the capricious region of the world. The emergence of a splinter organisation--the Islamic State in Iraqi and Syria (ISIS)--from Al Qaida, last summer, has further compounded the tension and turbulence in the region.
In ISIS, the world has witnessed a level of human depravity that is unprecedented in recent memory. The killing, rape, torture and cruelty inflicted by ISIS on minority groups and those who dared to challenge their vision of an Islamic Caliphate have become a major source of moral panic and outrage across the world.
Concerned political leaders had an initial faltering start; and were incoherent on how to respond to ISIS. However, when the public outcry to the carnage went beyond the region, it decided on a more coherent response. This may have slowed down the advance of ISIS in the region, but has not led to significant degrading and diminishing of the group’s capability--as it envisaged.
The recent gruesome beheading in Libya of 21 young Christian men who were first abducted from their home country, Egypt, is evidence that the violence and activities of ISIS went beyond the borders of Iraqi and Syria. Christians in Iraqi and Syria have largely borne the brunt of ISIS’ brutality. And Christians in the region remain at risk of potential violence from the group.
How should Christians respond? And what could be the potential impact of such response?
The response of Christians, particularly in the region to the callous climate of cruelty and chaos would go a long way to determine and shape future events and development within and outside the region.
We had a glimpse of this in an interview with Beshir Estafanos Kamel, the brother of two of the beheaded Christian men--Bishoy Estafanos Kamel (25) and Samuel Estafanos Kamel (23). Beshir said: “ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where [our brothers] declared their faith.” He went further, thanking ISIS for affording them such a rare opportunity by making available the video. It would be pertinent to note that the last words uttered by some of the Christian men, including the two Estafanos Kamel brothers, just prior to their beheading were “Ya Rabbi Yasou” (My Lord Jesus Christ).
SAT--7, a television broadcaster in the Middle East and North Africa, aptly captured the essence of the horrific event and the response of the Christian men in these words: “With amazing grace comes amazing faith.” In other words, they banished the spirit of fear in the face of an imminent gruesome death.
It’s most likely that ISIS released the unedited video to humiliate and ridicule their belief on Jesus Christ. But in a paradoxical way, ISIS has unwittingly emboldened and bolstered the faith of the ‘remnant’ caught up in the climate of cruelty.
As humans we most often fall into the trap of our emotional opinion and intellectual belief as regards the working of God. But God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts; and man’s ways are not God’s ways. Out of the evil thoughts and action of man, the Lord can bring to pass what will save much people. The prayer of the Estafanos Kamel’s family that God should open the eyes of ISIS members to see the error of their ways; and that they have forgiven those who murdered their sons runs contrary to our natural instincts.
In another related development, the recent interview of an eight year old Iraqi refugee girl, Myriam--which has generated a lot of interest in the Middle East--further reinforces the need for forgiveness. In the midst of very difficult and dire social circumstances brought about by ISIS, she has clung to her faith in God. Her rendition of the good old hymn, ‘Nearer My God, To Thee’ has remained a source of inspiration and hope to a life in the Middle East beyond the current climate of fear.
In my humble opinion, this post provides me with a rare opportunity to speak words of encouragement to brothers and sisters in the Middle East, North Africa--and other parts of the world where persecution is rife. It may seem that the world has abandoned you; and it could be that they have. But there are Christians who are standing with you in prayer and are encouraged by your faith. God has not turned away from you; even when you seem not to see the trace of His hand in your current difficult and appalling situation.
By Dr Anayo Unachukwu,
The author lives in the UK.