Like most Americans, you likely spent the Christmas holiday celebrating with family and friends, while attending a Christmas Eve service at your church. There’s just something intrinsically beautiful about this time of year, celebrating the birth of our Savior around the people we love and cherish most.
For Christians in Iraq and the Middle East, however, celebrating the Christmas season has a much different sense of urgency and despair that comes along with it.
According to The Hill, Christians in the Middle East are heading for extinction. What once was the birthplace and home of Christianity, is now almost dwindling down to nothing.
In 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, whereas today, the population is less than 250,000, The Hill reported.
“The Christian population of Iraq has dropped from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 250,000 today,” The Hill reported. “Those who remain are in a struggle to keep their culture and heritage alive in a place where their families have celebrated Christmas since the time of Christ.”
Living in the Middle East as a Christian has never been easy, but it has never been as devastatingly hard as it is today.
Things hit a low when ISIS took over in 2014, and it wasn’t until last Christmas, December 2017, that the terrorist group was eradicated. Although ISIS is no longer calling the Ninevah Plains home, there is much destruction left over from their time there.
Families are slowly returning to their hometowns only to find their homes and places of work completely destroyed.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), under Vice President Mike Pence’s administrative promises, has granted over $300 million in aid to religious minorities, like the Christians in the Middle East.
“USAID Administrator Mark Green went personally to the region to conduct a needs assessment and appointed special representative Max Primorac to directly oversee the implementation of U.S.-funded programs,” reported The Hill. “Green deserves credit for managing the difficult deliverance of aid in a complex sectarian environment.”
Iraq is not the only Middle Eastern country in which the Christian population is decreasing. Egyptian Christians also face persecution on a daily basis. Christians have fled the country, hoping to seek refuge in other places because of the brutal persecution they face by simply living there.
The seriousness of the situation can be seen by how President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has taken extra steps to try to protect Christians.
Egyptian Streets reported that the President declared that Egypt would be “prosecuting terrorists who have targeted them, rebuilding destroyed churches and appointing the first Coptic female governor of an Egyptian province.”
There are only two countries in the Middle East where Christians are able to live peacefully: Israel and Lebanon. Millions of Christians have fled to Lebanon, especially after the civil war arose in Syria.
The United States even supports the Lebanese Armed Forces which helps stabilize the government, as well as taking an opposing side to Iran, who is constantly threatening the small country of Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also makes a point in standing in solidarity with Christians in Israel. Last year in his Christmas address, he specifically addressed them saying:
“I’m very proud to be the prime minister of Israel, a country that says ‘Merry Christmas’ first to its Christian citizens and to our Christian friends around the world. I’m proud that Israel is the country in which Christians not only survive, but they thrive because we believe in this friendship among people and we protect the rights of everyone to worship in the holy shrines behind me.”
Even though Netanyahu welcomes Christians into Israel with open arms, the small country cannot possibly harbor all the Middle Eastern Christians. While many of us gather with family and friends to openly celebrate the birth of our Savior, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ hide in fear of persecution in the Middle East.
Instead of trying to decide what they should buy for gifts this Christmas or how much food to eat, they are asking the question, “Where should we live now?”