- also Christians imperilled in Syria
by Elizabeth Kendal
THE CROSS AS REVELATION
The Cross is more than an event in history; more than an instrument of torture and death; more than an atonement for sin. The Cross is revelation, for through the Cross God reveals how he works; indeed how he is forced to work when dealing with arrogant, self-righteous, glory-orientated, sinful humanity. Indeed it is our glory-lust that forces God to use inglorious means. When we consider the supreme evil of the Cross and realise how much Christ suffered, not only for us but because of us, it is humbling indeed. All we can do is hang our heads, shed a tear and whisper 'thank you'.
But the Cross also reveals that appearances can be deceptive; that things are not always as they seem; that even in the midst of death and darkness when God seems absent and the 'world' boasts victory, the truth is found to be exactly the opposite. For notwithstanding the appearance of defeat, Christ was at work faithfully fulfilling his promises. The Cross confirms Isaiah 55:8,9 and proves that God's ways are contrary to ours; indeed 'the things of God' are totally contrary to 'the things of man' (Matthew 16:23 ESV). The Cross confirms Zechariah 4:6, proving that God fulfils his promises 'not by might, nor by power, but by [his] Spirit'. The Cross reveals that God defeats sin by thoroughly subverting it and redeeming it as blessing. Consequently we can be certain that God is at work in this sin-riddled world, in war-ravaged Syria, Iraq and Ukraine; in sectarian tinderboxes like India, Pakistan and Egypt; and in the prisons of Iran, Laos and North Korea. For notwithstanding the appearance of defeat, God is at work subverting evil, working out his purposes and fulfilling his promises. And as God goes about his hidden, surprising work, he extends his hand and invites us to join him, saying: 'While I work in people's hearts (Philippians 2:13) and "build my Church" (Matthew 16:18), you are to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8,9); give generously (Matthew 6:3); bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2); pray for world leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4) and persevere in prayer for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).'
Viewing suffering and persecution through the revelation or prism of the Cross enables light and hope to be found hidden amidst the darkness and despair. My dear persecuted brothers and sisters, my dear fellow intercessors, never lose sight of the Cross. It is less a burden to bear than an eternal reminder how God subverts evil and redeems it as blessing. If Islamic State (IS) really understood what the Cross reveals, they would be less inclined to remind us that we are 'the Nation of the Cross' [see RLPB 297 (16 Feb)]. Lord, help us live up to that energising, hope-inspiring, wonderful name!
SYRIA: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED - URGENT
* IDLIB, NORTH-WEST SYRIA
Around 23 March an alliance of jihadist groups announced they had formed an alliance, known as Jaysh al Fateh, for the purpose of seizing Idlib, the provincial capital of the highly strategic Idlib Province. On Saturday 28 March Jaysh al Fateh's 'Army of Conquest', comprising some 1500 fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria), Ahrar al-Sham and five other groups entered and seized the city of Idlib. Their success was due in part to suicide-bombings and because the rebels have acquired armoured vehicles, plus at least two American TOW anti-tank missiles which they deployed against the Syrian Army with great effect. Reportedly, the Syrian government now controls only about ten percent of Idlib Province. This is a huge win for al-Qaeda. Aleppo (the jewel in the crown) is wedged between al-Qaeda in Idlib and Islamic State (IS) in Raqqa. Aleppo now risks being cut off from Damascus. Al-Qaeda and IS might have their differences, but not regarding how they treat Christians. The situation in the north-west is extremely critical. Please pray.
* HASEKAH, NORTH-EAST SYRIA
Before Islamic State fighters raided the Assyrian villages on the Khabour River on 23 February [see RLPB 298 (24 Feb)] some 8000 Assyrians still lived in the Hasekah heartland. [Hasekah is contiguous with northern Iraq's Nineveh province.] Now they number less than 2000 and are dwindling quickly. Many are displaced and taking refuge in the provincial capital of Hasekah city. A Christian militia comprising some 450 Assyrian men has been formed to defend the remnant. Whilst they have the support of some Kurdish fighters, nobody else is helping them. Turkey has sealed the border and IS fighters have besieged the Syrian border town of Qamishli, which now hosts some 100 Assyrian families displaced from the Khabour River region. More than 200 Assyrian Christians remain in IS captivity. An official with the Syriac Union party, Sanhareb Barsom, describes the situation as 'catastrophic'. 'These people have broken down,' he said. 'Their emotional state is very bad because some of the families have had members taken captive by Daesh [IS].' Please pray.
'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me.' (Psalm 57:1,2 ESV)
Note: In the light of our Easter Reflection, it is significant to note that in November 2013 United Bible Societies reported that Scripture distribution was increasing markedly in 'persecution hotspots'. The highest increase was recorded in war-torn Syria, where Scripture distribution had increased eight-fold during 2012. The persecuted Church is on the front-line of an intensive spiritual battle - it needs all the help we can give it. And so we pray, but not as those without hope.