“At several steps on their path to death by beheading and crucifixion last month, 11 indigenous Christian workers near Aleppo, Syria had the option to leave the area and live. The 12-year-old son of a ministry team leader also could have spared his life by denying Christ…”
The Christian Aid Mission account of the fate of Aleppo’s indigenous Christian missionaries is harrowing and humbling. While Western politicians debate whether or not to risk World War III by creating a safe haven in northern Syria and imposing a no-fly zone over Aleppo – with the expectation (/certainty) of US/European forces, sooner or later, having to shoot down a Russian bomber or Syrian fighter jet – we’re hearing a lot about Assad’s (lesser) evil, ISIS barbarism and the pervasive demonic contempt for the human spirit. Women are stoned, men burned alive, girls raped and gays hurled from tall buildings. It is an image of hell.
We’re not hearing much about Aleppo’s Christians: the mainstream media don’t care very much what happens to them:
..The Syrian ministry workers in those villages chose to stay in order to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors.
“I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose,” said the ministry director, his voice tremulous as he recalled their horrific deaths. “As their leader, I should have insisted that they leave.”
They stayed because they believed they were called to share Christ with those caught in the crossfire, he said.
“Every time we talked to them,” the director said, “they were always saying, ‘We want to stay here – this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do.’ They just wanted to stay and share the gospel.”
While we drink our Fair Trade coffee and pray for the recovery of our gay pride flags, our brothers and sisters in Christ are risking everything to share the gospel with those who are being lost. They suffer hell on earth to keep people out of hell for eternity. What experience of Jesus have they had which we do not? What God-consciousness do they possess which we have not? What inner life fires them to such certainty, peace and the assurance that to die is gain?
On Aug. 28, the militants asked if they had renounced Islam for Christianity. When the Christians said that they had, the rebels asked if they wanted to return to Islam. The Christians said they would never renounce Christ.
The 41-year-old team leader, his young son and two ministry members in their 20s were questioned at one village site where ISIS militants had summoned a crowd. The team leader presided over nine house churches he had helped to establish. His son was two months away from his 13th birthday.
In front of the team leader and relatives in the crowd, the Islamic extremists cut off the fingertips of the boy and severely beat him, telling his father they would stop the torture only if he, the father, returned to Islam. When the team leader refused, relatives said, the ISIS militants also tortured and beat him and the two other ministry workers. The three men and the boy then met their deaths in crucifixion.
“All were badly brutalized and then crucified,” the ministry leader said. “They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them.”
The martyrs died beside signs the ISIS militants had put up identifying them as “infidels.”
What manner of demon slices off a boy’s fingertips in the pursuit of religious conversion? What father’s agony can bear being forced to renounce his Saviour in order to spare his son? They are not infidels, but saints, sanctified by the Blood of the Lamb, made holy by being in Christ, the sanctifier. Their eschatological mission transcended race, religion, sex and social status: their loyalty to Christ made them love their enemies, seeking the image of God in the ravaged faces of hate.
Eight other ministry team members, including two women, were taken to another site in the village that day (Aug. 28) and were asked the same questions before a crowd. The women, ages 29 and 33, tried to tell the ISIS militants they were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse. The Islamic extremists then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the ISIS militants to beat them all the more furiously.
As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying.
“Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord’s prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus,” the ministry director said. “One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”
After they were beheaded, their bodies were hung on crosses, the ministry director said, his voice breaking. He had trained all of the workers for their evangelistic ministry, and he had baptized the team leader and some of the others.
Thus is the vocation of Christian missionaries: without their sacrifice, the whole truth cannot be known. Their fears are real and their grief is great, but the zeal to proclaim the glory of the Risen Christ is more real and far greater. Is there any joy to be found in the torture and murder of a 12-year-old boy? Is the loss of any young life not worth a headline somewhere? Is our world so distorted and deformed that the crucifixion and beheading of Aleppo’s Christian missionaries doesn’t rend the hearts of anyone but their families and fellow missionaries?
These are the real martyrs; the very special dead. May their presence and power rend the veil between earth and heaven. We need their faces and stories in our petty, mundane lives. We might then see Jesus through the molehills.