The Apostle James admonishes us as people of faith to take action on that faith. His strongest admonition comes in the first part of his letter to the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad:
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27 NASB)
The real question is this: How many orphans and widows have you visited today?
The very real needs of this world stare us in the face every day. Sometimes those needs walk right up to your car at an intersection and ask for money. Sometimes those needs are half a world away, but still very close to the heart of God. Here is one of them. Her name is Myriam.
In many ways Myriam is one of the fortunate ones. In August 2014, when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forced her Christian family to leave their home in Qaraqoush, Iraq, they fled to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Now she lives with her parents and sister in a mall that has been converted into a refugee camp. The good news is that they escaped with their lives. The bad news is that many did not, and those who did saw things that no one should ever have to see. Many thousands are still held in the grip of violent Islamist terrorists, faced daily with harsh choices that involve death or something worse.
The world’s attention has at last focused on the genocide happening in Iraq. Tragically, this story is not new. What is new is that the Islamic State (IS) has undertaken the brutal, systematic eradication of every group that does not adhere to its barbaric and quite literal interpretation of Islam. The murder, rape, starvation, and enslavement of Iraq’s minorities who have refused to convert to Islam is now making headlines in the mainstream media. Hopefully all the world now knows about the Yezidis of Iraq who have suffered these brutalities, many thousands of whom are only now finding refuge after being trapped on the Sinjar Mountains.
Yet the Yezidis are not alone in this suffering. The Christians of Iraq have undergone severe persecution since 2003. The estimated Christian population of Iraq in the 1990s was 1.2 million; today it is perhaps 300,000. Many have fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where they have found refuge. Many others have fled the region altogether, finding new lives as refugees. The plight of Iraq’s Christians prompted Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) to speak out recently, saying on the floor of Congress, “Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out.” His remarks highlighted the atrocities of the Islamic State against Christians in Mosul, indicting the United States and the West for silence on this matter. Congressman Wolf called on the church to speak out on behalf of Christians who have been persecuted in the extreme, not only in Iraq, but in Egypt, Africa, and elsewhere that Islamic extremists have taken control. He could also have mentioned Syria, where the Christian population has been literally under siege since the civil war in that nation began in 2011.