In recent days, our hearts have been torn and our emotions exhausted as we’ve attempted to process the horrific martyrdom of 21 Christian young men (20 Egyptian and one Ghanian) at the hands of their radical-Islamic captors.
And then, just yesterday, we learned that ISIS had kidnapped dozens of Assyrian Christians, including many women and children, in northeast Syria.
Last week, I shared behind-the-scenes insights from the director of Focus on the Family’s Middle East outreach, Sami Yacoub, that lent meaningful background to the news reports we were hearing.
For the past two days, Sami’s team has been given the privilege of ministering to the families of these murdered men. They’ve counted it a blessing to sit on the dirt floors in these humble households to fellowship, pray, and share the eternal hope we hold in common.
Their reports of what they have seen, heard and experienced are remarkable.
As they looked toward their visits, there was a sense in which the team was unprepared for all that unfolded. They anticipated spending a brief time with each group of loved ones, assuring them of the Lord’s presence and watch care, and praying for their physical needs.
But what they encountered was both unexpected and overwhelming, and it powerfully witnessed to the timeless universality of the Scripture.
In the words of one staff member, “Today we saw a living Bible.”
Repeatedly throughout their time together, Bible lessons and characters from Scripture verses sprang to life. And this from Christians who are 90 percent illiterate, and whose limited knowledge is based on scriptural stories they have heard and committed to memory. I believe what our team encountered was a powerful testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Let me give you just one example.
We remember the story of King David as he struggled with the reality of a gravely ill son (2 Samuel 12). It was a season of grieving and pleading with the Lord, but no divine reply was forthcoming. When his son passed away, contrary to his servants’ expectations, David arose, washed and anointed himself, and worshipped. While King David’s son lived, he fasted and wept, praying the Lord would be gracious. But after his son died, fasting gave way to worship and an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.
This is exactly what Sami and his team found unfolding in the lives of the martyrs’ families.
In the first week of January, these family members heard that their sons, husbands, and brothers had been kidnapped in Libya. The following 35 days were characterized by silence, and understandably accompanied by mourning, sleeplessness, and weeping. When they received reports the young men had been gruesomely murdered, at first family members were shocked and broken in spirit. But within hours, Sami reports those emotions gave way to a sense of rejoicing in the eternal reality of the martyrs’ homegoing.
Can you imagine?
In fact, one bereaved father, who didn’t sleep the entire 47 days his son was gone, upon watching the video of the executions slept soundly that night. How does one account for this supernatural response? It can only be explained by turning to the promises made in God’s Word, that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
The heart commitment of these dear believers is not only inspirational, but almost incomprehensible to those of us in the First World.
These individuals live in abject poverty, and the young men they lost represented their hope for future material provision. Yet not one family expressed a need for physical provision. Instead, with smiles on their faces, they conveyed a sense of peace, reliance on, and gratitude to Christ for His sufficiency. Nor was there a word of bitterness directed toward their ISIS tormentors.
Instead, the families of the murdered expressed a desire to provide light to these men whose eyes have been blinded so that they might experience God’s truth and love. There was a realization among these believers that Jesus was all they had, and they were “all in” for Him.
Could you do likewise? Could I?
The apostle Paul’s words to the early church in Philippi have never echoed more clearly: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21).
The photographs featured below provide a small snapshot of the types of people we’re praying for and helping via the ministry of Focus on the Family in Egypt. These pictures were taken at a food and fuel distribution held in Erbil, Iraq, at the end of last year. Some of the men, women and children you see are from displaced families who are fleeing ISIS.
Thank you for your encouraging and empathetic comments and assurances of prayer. We’ve passed hundreds of them along to Sami and his team. They have helped to lift the spirits of those most impacted.
I would invite and encourage you to continue sharing your heart and thoughts in the space below. One of the incredible realities of technology is that it allows us to instantaneously reach all the way across the world. Your words and prayers can serve like a balm on a burn.