Reformed Christians in Iraq and Lebanon have lost homes and left churches because of the recent Middle East conflicts, according to staff of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF).
MERF receives partial funding from the Christian Reformed Church’s broadcast ministry, The Back to God Hour (BTGH), for its radio evangelism efforts.
In Lebanon, the bombing this past summer affected at least 300 believing Christian families, including about 20 families who were left homeless, stated MERF General Director Victor Attalah. (About half of Lebanese people are nominal Christians, according to MERF.)
“Meeting the needs of masses of refugees is beyond the scope of local believing churches, yet God’s people are mobilizing their limited resources,” wrote Samuel Kharrat, Chair of the Lebanese Reformed Fellowship, in an August 2006 MERF report.
In Iraq, MERF has supported six Reformed congregations: two in Baghdad, one each in Mosul, Kirkuk, and Basra, and one in Erbal, which recently closed down.
“The recent occupation of Iraq and continuing instability has greatly affected the [Reformed] churches,” states a May 2006 MERF newsletter. “About one-third of every congregation has run away to other countries. Church attendance of the remaining has dwindled drastically.”
Among those remaining are “many . . . whose loved ones were lost or injured in the recent war and following insecurities,” the report said. “The main Arabic-speaking congregation in Baghdad used to have two crowded Sunday-morning services totaling over 1,200 people. Now only 40-60 people living in the immediate vicinity attend a single service.”
Even pastors have left: “The Assyrian-speaking pastor was forced to flee Baghdad,” the report continued. “The pastor of the Mosul congregation also had to run for his life. He is pastoring a sizeable congregation of Iraqi refugees in Damascus, Syria.”
How can North American Christians help? “Please pray . . . for MERF’s Lebanese Arabic broadcasting team preparing messages to comfort the suffering with the good news of Christ the Savior. Pray also for . . . volunteers from local churches, reaching out to meet the diaconal needs of refugees,” Kharrat wrote. “The prayers, expressions of concern, and practical giving of brothers and sisters in Christ assures us that God has not abandoned his beloved people in Lebanon, that he still cares about Lebanon.”
MERF’s radio ministry often receives letters from Christians who have been encouraged and built up by its Arabic broadcasts, as well as from seekers. The broadcasts air on mainstream stations for 15 minutes each evening, reaching about 4 million listeners.
“The Back to God Hour partners with MERF because we know that the gospel is the true hope for lasting peace in the Middle East. By partnering with Reformed believers throughout the Middle East, we not only encourage fellow Christians who are witnessing in difficult and often dangerous situations, but we also multiply our impact,” said Rev. Bob Heerspink, BTGH executive director.
Through the joint Arabic radio ministry along with the church assistance, pastoral training, and diaconal aid that MERF provides on the ground, the gospel is advancing in the Middle East.
“We are sensing that the hold of Islam on its people is falling apart, regardless of the small fanatical groups that tend to be loud and intimidating,” said Attalah. “More and more of the population are disenchanted with Islam and are looking for alternatives.”
—Roxanne Van Farowe