|Canon Andrew Wright refuses to leave Iraq,|
despite escalating violence
. (Story image courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Canada.
Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Battle lines have deepened since April, as Sunni Islamist militants kill increasing numbers of civilians to invoke "revenge" on the Shi'ite government. Since 2013 began, nearly 5,000 people have lost their lives in sectarian violence.
"The mujahideen [holy warriors] will not stand with their hands tied while the despicable project of Iran shows its ugly face in Iraq and the Levant," the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stated on a militant Internet forum.
The al Qaeda branches of Iraq and Syria merged in August to form this new group, which quickly rose up as the main opposition fighting President Basheer al-Assad's reign in Syria. An analyst at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Jon Alterman, recently told TIME Magazine that Syria's civil war is playing a "huge part" in Iraq's tension.
"You're having jihadis from all over the world traveling to Syria, being considered surplus and being sent to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq," said Alterman.
Statements made by U.S. officials seem to confirm this reality.
"Over the last two years, we've had an average of about 5 to 10 suicide bombers a month in 2011 and 2012," a senior U.S. official said at an August press briefing. "We've seen over the last 90 days the suicide bomber numbers approach around 30 a month, and we still suspect most of those are coming in from Syria.... What that shows is a fairly sophisticated al-Qaeda network."
Voice of the Martyrs Canada works alongside St. George's Church in Baghdad, supporting a variety of their projects: feeding programs, medical and dental clinics, etc. Spokesman Greg Musselman says their ministry partner, Canon Andrew Wright, told him the last few weeks have been especially terrible.
"'There are no longer 'rumors of war:' war is here,'" Musselman says Wright told him.
While the overall violence gripping Iraq is primarily between Shi'ite and Sunni followers of Islam, Musselman says Christians fall victim, too.
"It's definitely having a devastating effect on the Church because of everything that's happening with the rise up of militant Islam," he states. "The Church has been so decimated and it's become so small.
"Before the First World War, about 20% of the population in the Middle East was Christian. Now, it's anywhere between 2 and 4%--and shrinking."
In a recent interview, Musselman says Wright revealed a "shocking" statistic.
"More than 1,200 people in his church have been killed since 2003," says Musselman.
Click here to read a recent letter to Voice of the Martyrs Canada from Reverend Wright.
Born in England, Wright leads the only Anglican Church in Baghdad. Musselman says Wright has dedicated his life to the people of Iraq, and often tells them in times of turmoil, "I'm not going to leave you. Don't leave me!"
"But now he's hearing from many of them, including those very close to him: 'You know what, it's just too dangerous. We need to get out of here,'" explains Musselman.
"I confess that such statements drove me to tears," Wright penned in a letter to Musselman.
"Then I remembered that He who has called me to this place will never fail me. As He remained with Daniel, so He will remain with me."
The rise of radical Islam in Iraq and the perseverance of Christ-followers like Wright reveal a conundrum.
"If all the Christians leave Iraq…where will the Light be?" asks Musselman.
"A million Christians have left the country, and that's decimating what already was a fairly small Church.... But even in the midst of all that, there are still those that are willing to stay and be the Light, and even start house churches…because they really believe that God wants them there."
Want to know the best way to help them? It's easy. Pray.
"There are a number of things I think that we can pray for, but the number one thing is that fear would not overtake our brothers and sisters in Christ," says Musselman.
To provide tangible support, click here to send resources and other forms of encouragement to persecuted believers in Iraq through Voice of the Martyrs Canada.
"Just remember, these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We're not physically with them, but spiritually we are," says Musselman. "We're in this together. Pray! And as the Lord maybe tells some of us to go or to do something practical, we need to do that."