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The Assyrian Church (Part 2)
It's Time to Meet and Pray

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Light the Fire Again

By Haydn Jensen


This article is the second of a two-part series, meant to help connect Assyrian Christians in London with fellow believers in our community. After Toronto, London is home the largest settlement of Assyrians in Canada--about 1500 people. Rather than dealing with doctrinal and theological distinctives, our aim here is to reflect Christ's teaching to make our Christian identity clear by our love for one another (See John 13:34-35). Given recent tragic news of ongoing abductions and executions of Assyrian Christians in and around Syria, we do well to strengthen our ties with our fellow believers whose family members are suffering persecution. I have recently met a group of Assyrians in London who tell me they want to reach out to other Christians and for us to get to know them. NOTE: There’s an invitation for you to respond at the end of this article!

In last month's edition of Christian Life in London we introduced you to Assyrian Christians (Brothers and Sisters You Never Knew You Had). There you learned that the Assyrian Church is the oldest branch of the Christian Church, and traces its patriarchy back to the Apostle Thomas in 33 A.D. You also learned that Assyrian bloodlines, culture, language actually are much older than that. As a people group they go back to 4650 BC. It was the Assyrians that God sent Jonah to speak to at Nineveh. Although once rulers of a powerful empire in what was known as Mesopotamia (located in parts of modern day Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq) they are now a landless people whose only leadership comes from their church. Consequently, they are also in many ways a forgotten people, and have historically been victims of forced exile, genocide, abduction, religious and economic persecution. This continues today.

It would be impossible in one paragraph to adequately recount all the atrocities committed against the Assyrians over history, or even over the past 100 years. As an indigenous people in an increasingly Islamic territory and one subject to numerous political colonial agendas, several ethnic cleansing events have decimated their population, sometimes by up to two-thirds at a time. However, many Assyrian Christians survived these systematic massacres and also resisted the government efforts at "Arabization" or "Islamification". Even when the persecution is subtle its impact can be demoralizing. For example, in many Islamic rule countries it is common practice for non-Muslims to pay a special tax called a "jizyah" which allows them to practice their faith privately. In these countries it is also forbidden for non-Muslims to own a weapon of any kind. Their testimony in court carries less weight than a Muslim, and in general non-Muslims are regarded as second class citizens.

Sometimes news media oversimplify things in their efforts to explain Middle East politics and the many conflicts there. Our Assyrian brothers and sisters want us to understand that ISIS (also called ISIL or IS) may be dominating headlines as the violent aggressors now, but removing that threat will not solve the problem--other threats will inevitably follow. The pattern of anti-Assyrian and anti-Christian aggression has been repeating in this area for well over 1,400 years. You may also hear that the basic conflict is rooted in a longstanding struggle between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, each claiming that theirs is the true Islam. This is partly a factor, but only partly. According to my Assyrian friends, the main issue is that in many Islamic rule countries Islam is both a religion and a state (the law of the land), and the two can’t be separate. No matter which culture or people group may be indigenous to the area, the push for Islamification of the region (and ultimately the world) inevitably means imposition of Islamic laws, prohibition of other religions and total intolerance of any opposition to the ruling leadership. These men have claimed absolute power and authority and feel free to act accordingly.

We hear daily news about attacks on Christians in Syria, Iran and Turkey and the world has finally begun to respond. Our Canadian government has reportedly sent $700M in humanitarian aid to affected regions. Only problem is, Assyrians in the area have not seen any of this assistance. Efforts are presently being made by eyewitness Assyrians visiting Canada to provide testimony that our Canadian aid has not reached the area, in hopes that real relief will actually materialize for a group under deadly attack by jihadist groups.

As Christians we have a role to play in supporting our brothers and sisters under attack. I asked our Assyrian brothers and sisters living here in London how other Christians in our area can respond. They said the first and most important thing we can do is to pray. Pray for God to open the eyes of ISIL people, that they would "see Him as He is"--the true God. Pray for God to release those who are presently held hostage (very possibly to be used as human shields), and for protection for those who remain in grave danger in ISIL target areas. It is worth noting that the Assyrian Church of the East calendar is full of festival and feast days. However, the current conflict faced by many Assyrians has meant church leaders have decided to cancel festival days until more peaceful times.

Assyrians here in London also offer you an invitation. They know that as a people they have tended to keep to themselves for thousands of years in order to maintain and preserve their language, culture, bloodline, etc. Yes, old habits are hard to break, but there is a growing interest for increased interaction with fellow brothers and sisters. "Let us come together", many are saying. “We want you to listen to our story and understand us.” They explain that their identity has been shaped by persecution and this has led to passionate adherence to traditions. Keeping their Assyrian Christian faith is simply part of their culture. They are happy to share this with the rest of the Church.

Ninos Ismail, Board President of the London Assyrian Church of the East, and Assyrian London business owner, Mansour Zindo, believes the time is right for increased interaction. This is especially true here in Canada where society allows for free expression of faith in comparison to forced closed society conditions of Syria. Mansour rightly observes that if the Bible is our framework, we should be learning together. He says, "We can't compromise the words of Christ when He says go tell others."

So, this article will actually end with a little RSVP experiment.

Copy text from below and paste your selected response into an email to me: hjensen@clil.ca

I will pass your response along to our Assyrian church friends.

YES--I'd like me personally / my small group / my church / my Christian group to be invited to an event hosted by the London Assyrian Church of the East to get to know our Assyrian brothers and sisters in Christ.

YES--I'd like to explore having Assyrian Christians visit my church/ small group/ prayer event/ etc. to share so that we can pray for our Assyrian brothers and sisters facing persecution.

HEY--I have another idea for getting to know my Assyrian brothers and sisters. (Share your idea here...)