Many people are surprised by the news reports about the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria--wondering where they came from and why are they living in "Moslem countries." The answer is that they've been there all along, particularly in the northern, more remote parts of those countries. Some years ago, they were about 20% of the population of Syria and Iraq; they are now estimated at 5-10%. Moslems often say that Christians and Jews have always "lived in peace in in our countries"; what they don't mention is the restrictions and the fragility of their lives. We do not know what will happen--how many will survive, how many will escape, how many will not.
It was in Antioch of ancient Syria that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians, and this was one of the five major Patriarchates of the early church, along with Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Constantinople. The Gospel spread from there through the area that is now Syria, eastern Turkey, and Iraq. They have survived the controversies within the early church in the fouth through sixth century; the Moslem conquest of the 600s, the Crusades, the Mongol conquests of the 1200's, the massacres of Armenian and Assyrian Christians during and after World War I by Turkish and Kurdish nationalists, and increasing emigration over the last century.
My father-in-law was born in southeastern Turkey, just north of the border between Syria and Iraq, in an historically Christian town. As a young man, he and one brother escaped a massacre of Christians in the 1920's; another brother and their father were killed. Practically everybody I have met from their people have a horror story of loss and survival. I had not known a lot about the Eastern Churches before marrying into this subculture, but have found it a fascinating study. There are remnants of at least six traditions that survived; I have been to weddings and funerals in several different churches, one of which claims to use the original "St James Liturgy" of the first-century Jerusalem church.
What can we learn about following Jesus from those who have lived out Jesus' warnings that things would not be easy in this world?
These are some of the things that we need to know:
Hard conditions can give us the time and motivation to spend time with God, to know Him, and gain strength.
We do not know what God is doing; we are not on the planning level.
Weakness is an opportunity for God to change us and use us.
We should pray to stay strong; bad things happen but we can honor God through our response.
We can be enabled to forgive and love on a deeper level than we ever thought possible.
Prayer is the ultimate fellowship--we should pray for all of those on the same Road we are on, wherever they may be.