Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Local Pastor in Movie deal to make a Biblical Epic

Local pastor, Stephen Missick, of King of Saints Tabernacle in Cleveland, Texas, is developing a script for a Biblical film for a Hollywood film producer. Film producer Harvey Rochman has contacted Pastor Missick and asked him to develop a script about the Apostle Thomas in India. In the Bible, Thomas is one of the Twelve Apostles. He is known as “Doubting Thomas” because of his refusal to believe the resurrection of Jesus without first having placed his finger through the nail print in Christ’s hands. According to extra-biblical accounts, the Apostle Thomas traveled to India in order to preach the Gospel of Jesus there.

Pastor Missick believes that his is an ideal time to produce a Biblical epic. He says, “In early 2014 we have seen two Biblical blockbusters, “Son of God,” and “Noah.” Noah had a gross of $100 million in the USA and it may have made even more money if not for the controversy surrounding it. The “Son of God” movie made $67 million dollars, although most of what was in the film was already aired footage from “The Bible: The Epic Miniseries” television miniseries. Other recent faith-based movies, such as “Heaven is Real” and “God is not Dead” have preformed well.  “God is not Dead” was made on a budget of less than $2 million, but has grossed over $70 million. Later this year “The Exodus” starring Christian Bale as Moses will be released to theaters. This shows that there is an audience that is willing to support Biblical and faith-based movies. The story of “Doubting” Thomas is marketable for several reasons. First, it will be a biblical epic (which are profitable as is seen above) and secondly, it also has an appeal to a global audience, in this case, to India. Hollywood has recently began making movies that appeal to a world audience and to India. We see this in “Slum-dog Millionaire,” “Million-dollar Arm,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and “Life of Pi.” (Note, life of Pi dealt with spiritual themes, and portrayed an Indian boy coming to faith in Jesus Christ.) Also, this is something that is new and unique. The story of Saint Thomas’ missionary journey to India comes from the era of the early church fathers. However, few are aware of this story so it will seem new and is sure to spark conversation. Christianity is the third largest religion in India, and there is a large group of Christians in southern India who consider their church to have been founded by the Apostle Thomas. “

Harvey Rochman is a film producer who produced Lost Junction (2003), and Misconceptions (2009) and is an internationally known media facilitator. Harvey is a key figure in the rapidly expanding global multi-media network. Harvey has traveled the world, retracing the ancient route of Alexander the Great, absorbing the core ideas and cultural aspirations of developing nations. He has predicted that Hollywood will play to a world-wide audience in the 21st century, with heroes and stories from other venues beyond American stereotypes.

The audience for Hollywood movies is international, and now Hollywood is beginning to tell international stories. International settings are beginning to be seen in many of the Marvel Comics movies for instance.  In an interview with Michael St. John his home in Key West, Florida , Harvey Rochman said, “Studio chiefs still act like they're living in the days when the target audience for movies was Main Street, U.S.A., But they're wrong. That type of thinking is outdated. Today, the fastest-growing audiences are not on Main Street. They're in Beijing, New Delhi, South Korea, Indonesia, and Mexico, to name a few. These are countries in which people want to see their stories up on the big screen. When Hollywood doesn't deliver, a home-grown film industry will inevitably take its place. Hence the phenomenal growth of Bollywood over the past two decades.”

According to Mr. St. John, “Rochman is hard at work arranging financing for movies that tell those global stories. And as adamant as he is that the U.S. film industry must begin looking for stories from abroad for its next generation of movies, he's equally adamant that telling those stories will benefit the West just as much as it will benefit the rest of the world.” Mr. Rochman says, “The decades of Western dominance, of American and European dominance over world culture, is coming to an end. If Hollywood can see this trend, understand it, and grow accordingly, there will be a treasure trove of new, fresh, and exciting movies to make, and a global audience of billions to pay to see them. But if Hollywood insists on remaining trapped in the previous century, it will see its global importance and relevance diminish, year by year, until it's too late.”

According to Pastor Missick, the mantle of Christian leadership is also passing on to the “third world.” He says, “You often hear about the decline of Christianity in the west. I think this is greatly exaggerated, but there is doubtlessly an expansion of Christianity in the third world. This phenomenon has been written about in “The Next Christendom” by Phillip Jenkins and “Whose Religion is Christianity?” by Lamin Sanneh. Evangelical Christianity is becoming more racially and culturally diverse. I have been blessed to participate in this dynamic spiritual movement when I held evangelistic outreaches in Uganda and India. We are beginning to move beyond the “Euro-Centric” view of Christianity. I think that the story of Saint Thomas is important because it is also about the Gospel beyond the West. It breaks false stereotypes concerning how people view Christianity. Since Thomas arrived in India there has been a significant Christian community there and now Christianity is the third largest religion in India. While the essential beliefs are the same, Christianity in India is culturally eastern.” According to Pastor Missick there is a large body of literature attributed to Saint Thomas. “Among the Aramaic Christians, there was a strong devotion to the Apostle Thomas, because they considered Thomas and Thaddeus to be the founders of their church. So we have two Gospels of Thomas, an Acts of Thomas, Psalms of Thomas and a Revelation of Thomas. I am using these sources as I adapt the story for my script.”

Harvey Rochman discovered Pastor Missick through the article that he had written for the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies on the Christians of Saint Thomas in India.

Stephen Missick graduated Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as a chaplain in the United States Army National Guard and has served in Iraq twice. His church, King of Saints Church is a non-denominational church that meets on 2228 FM 1127, Cleveland, Texas. Services are held Saturday morning. For more information call 281-592-4104

Don't feel helpless with the current situation befalling Assyrian Christians, there are many way you can help.

1. Pray - that God protects them from this evil and gives them strength and hope.
2. Donate - There are many christians organisations, NGOs helping the Christian Refugees.
3. Spread the news - Tell everyone about the situation, the more people know the plight of Assyrian Christians in Iraq the better.
4. Get online and spread the Message about the situation.
5. Tell you local government members, write letters, through social media, any means.

You can do all or many of the above, not doing anything does not help anyone!


Radio Program

American Family Radio serves a vital function in keeping American Evangelical Christians abreast of important issues and events. Right now there is a crisis for the Christians in the Middle East.

Most American Evangelicals have a profound ignorance about our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Arabic and Islamic world.

It is important to support Israel, but there are Christians in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt of whom we need to be aware, who we need to pray for and advocate for. It seems that Evangelicals view the Middle East through the prism of Israel, but there is a significant Christian population, certain important dynamics that are playing out, and other perspectives of which Evangelical Christians must be aware.

Now is a critical time. The population of Christians in Iraq has declined to less than 1/3 of what it was ten years ago. If these trends continue, we will see the disappearance of Christianity in the land of its birth. And, Christian communities that have survived 1,400 years of Islamic persecution will finally die out, during our life time. With the rise of Isis, the Assyrian Christian community in Iraq may disappear in a matter of months.

There are important Aramaic-speaking Assyrian villages in Eastern Syria, now under Isis control. Now, the Assyrians of Northern Iraq are also under ISIS control. This could be the end of the Assyrian Christian community’s presence in their homeland.

We need a paradigm shift in how American Evangelicals view the Middle East. We tend to view the region through the prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict. There are other things going on that we must be aware of. It would be unacceptable for Americans to view all of Europe through the conflicts in Northern Ireland and looking at the entire region of  the Middle East only through Israel is also folly. I believe  Israel is important. But Evangelical support for Israel is highly organized while we leave the Christian there to die.

It is imperative for Evangelical Christians to act now. I want to appeal to the American Family Association to consider starting at least a weekly one-hour radio program that focuses on issues of Christians in the Islamic world. The program can focus on the historical legacy of Middle Eastern Christianity, its history and theological contributions, and issues of religious persecution and discrimination arising out of Islamic extremism. I believe this is an urgent crisis.

If ISIS prevails, Assyrians are doomed. If Iraq becomes an Iranian protectorate, Iran’s radical Islamist regime will control Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and parts of Afghanistan. This does not bode well for the future. And it is a consequence of bad foreign policy decisions on the part of the Obama administration.

I have lived in many countries of the Middle East and have extensive knowledge about the Assyrian Christians of Mesopotamia and the Coptic Christians of Egypt. I have visited Egypt, Israel and the “Palestinian Territories,” Lebanon, and Syria. While I served in the Iraq War, I lived in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.

I have several videos up at my youtube channel if you want to check me out (www. I have graduated with a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you are interested, please contact me at 832-455-2978 or 281-592-4104. I reside in Cleveland, Texas. Perhaps, at the very least, some of your hosts for your radio programs can let me call in and we can discuss who the Christians of the Middle East are and what are the problems that they are currently facing.

The religious cleansing of Iraq's Christians

Published June 19, 2014

Just a year ago, after months of bombings, shootings and kidnappings, Baghdad’s Monsignor Pios Cacha made a grim prediction. He said that his Iraqi Christian community was experiencing the kind of religious cleansing that eradicated the country’s once-thriving Jewish community half a century before.

His rather prophetic words made headlines in Lebanon’s Daily Star: "Iraqi Christians fear fate of departed Jews."

Father Cacha’s reflections couldn’t have been more prescient. As he knew very well, Iraq was once home to 135,000 Jews. Today less than ten Jews remain in the entire country.

And now, with the raging incursion of ISIS – a brutal Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group – the religious cleansing of Iraq’s Christians is nearing completion as well.

Iraq’s Christian community is hardly a western innovation or a colonial relic. It dates from the 1st Century, when two of Jesus’ disciples – St. Thomas and St. Thaddeus (also known as St. Jude) – preached the Gospel in what was then Assyria. There has been a Christian presence in Iraq ever since.

The heartland of their community has always been in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. There, in recent years, the Christian population has swelled, as refugees from Basra and Baghdad have sought protection.

And now, as ISIS sweeps through Iraq, an estimated 150,000 have had to flee Mosul and their ancient Christian heartland, some for the second time in a decade.

Thousands of homeless families have surged into Kurdistan, where they have found provisional shelter and security, thanks to the Kurdish people and their battle-hardened Peshmerga militia.

Yet, strange as it seems, few in the West are aware of the Iraqi Christians' plight or their uncertain future.

My Hudson Institute colleague author Nina Shea writes, “The wave of persecution that has been directed at Iraq’s Christians after 2003 has never received much attention by either President Bush or President Obama’s administrations, but it has been a grave human-rights problem. The campaign against Christians has encompassed 70 deliberate church bombings and assaults, as well as assassinations, an epidemic of kidnappings, and other attacks against clergy and laity alike. In recent years, particularly since 2004, a million of Iraq’s Christians have been driven out of the country by such atrocities. This can be rightly called targeted religious cleansing, and it is a crime against humanity.”

Christians in the Middle East know very well about the ferocious system of Islam enforced by ISIS terrorists. When the group attacked Raqqa, Syria earlier this year, they gave the Christians three options: “Convert. Submit to Islam. Or face the sword.”

In order to save lives, Raqqa’s Christian elders chose to submit to ISIS’s 7th Century version of Muslim Sharia law and became dhimmis, a subservient, second-class minority under Islamic rule.

Among other severe demands, particularly about women’s dress, their oppressors also forbade the repair of war-torn churches, worshiping or praying in public, ringing church bells, or wearing crosses or other symbols of faith. Bearing arms is forbidden, and of course alcoholic beverages are banned.

The Christians in Iraq know all too well what they face as ISIS carries out its triumphant assault on Iraq – the terrorists’ vile reputation has preceded them. Images of ISIS beheadings, crucifixions, rapes, torture and mass execution have been widely disseminated on social media, including graphic YouTube videos.

To make matters worse, rather than offer assistance to their Christian neighbors, many Sunni Muslims in the area have simply turned

 a blind eye or even joined the invaders.

Iraq’s Christians have been left with little choice but to flee.

But where will they go?

In fact, the Middle East is overflowing with refugees. Millions of displaced Syrians are living in tents and shacks, particularly along the borders of Turkey and Jordan.

Thousands of Syria’s Armenian Christians have been relocated to Yerevan and its surrounding communities.

Coptic Christians have fled Egypt by the thousands since the so-called Arab Spring began. Those who remain are hoping and praying for better days under the new President al-Sisi.

And now most of Iraq’s remaining Christians are on the run, too, many of them leaving behind everything they own.

Canon Andrew White, the beloved Anglican “Vicar of Baghdad” reports, "Things are so bad now in Iraq, the worst they have ever been….The army [has] even fled. We urgently need help and support….We are in a desperate crisis."

Some fifty years ago, Iraq’s Jews were able to flee to Israel when they faced similar terror. But there is no Israel for Christians. Where can they go?

With that in mind, I asked my Hudson Institute colleague Hillel Fradkin, an expert on the Middle East, for his thoughts about their future.

“Considering the present developments in Iraq,” he said, “it is almost certain that Iraq will cease to exist as a united country. It will probably divide into three parts, one of which will be an independent Kurdistan. Since that’s home to another long-oppressed Iraqi minority – the Kurds – the Iraqi Christians’ best hope for surviving in the region may well be found in Kurdistan.”

Indeed, thousands have already found provisional shelter there. And as the rest of Iraq’s terrified Christians rush headlong into an unknown future, we can only pray for them as well.

May they find peace, renewed hope and protection – wherever their tragic journey takes them.

Lela Gilbert is author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians." She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. For more, visit her website: Follow her on Twitter@lelagilbert.



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pope to Netanyahu-Jesus Spoke Aramaic-Israeli PM Netanyahu quibbles with Pope Francis over Jesus Christ’s mother tongue
JERUSALEM — Reaching the close of his Mideast pilgrimage Monday, Pope Francis was one on one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu said in the meeting. “He was speaking Aramaic,” the pope corrected, smiling. “He spoke Aramaic, and he also knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu fired back, in what was apparently the most accurate statement in the exchange — according to a professor contacted by Reuters.  The disagreement over Jesus Christ’s native tongue marked a starkly different atmosphere than Pope’s meetings with other politicians in the region, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — whom Netanyahu has denounced for his move to reconcile with the Islamic militant group Hamas. This Mideast tour has proved to be a balancing act of symbolic and sometimes spontaneous gestures to press the Pope’s call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and friendship between Jews and Muslims in the land of Jesus’ birth. A day after he boosted Palestinian aspirations by praying at Israel’s security barrier surrounding Bethlehem, Francis honoured Holocaust victims by kissing the hands of several survivors, and accepted Israel’s last-minute request to pray at a memorial to victims of suicide bombings and other attacks. But the image that the Vatican hopes will define the trip, and perhaps Francis’ young papacy, was another: that of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church embracing his Argentine friends, a rabbi and a Muslim, in front of the Western Wall, adjacent to the disputed hilltop compound that lies at the heart of decades of Israel-Arab tensions. After visiting the golden-topped Dome of the Rock shrine on the compound on Monday morning, Francis prayed at the nearby Western Wall, leaving a hand-written note with the “Our Father” prayer written in his native Spanish in between the cracks of stone. When he finished, a visibly emotional Francis embraced Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, a leader of Argentina’s Muslim community, both of whom joined Francis on his official delegation in a potent symbol of interfaith friendship. “I think this was the real answer to such problems that come from very long and profound difficulties,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said of the embrace. “What can we do? We can pray. We can ask God to help us. We can love mutually and then embrace.” That logic lies at the heart of Francis’ surprise invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come to the Vatican next month to pray for peace. The invitation was a dramatic — but very Franciscan — initiative that confirmed that the pope who named himself after the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi feels free and even obliged to pursue any initiative that might benefit peace. Francis made a similar foray into world diplomacy last year when he rallied millions of people to fast and pray for a peaceful resolution to threatened U.S.-led military strikes on Syria. More recently, the Vatican has intervened directly in Venezuela’s unrest by participating in talks between the government and the opposition. In the case of the Vatican prayer meeting, Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres readily accepted the invitation, and Peres and Francis discussed the encounter during a lengthy meeting at the president’s office. “The humility in your nature and the power in your spirit raised a spiritual elation and a thirst for peace,” Peres told him at a ceremony in the garden of the presidential residence. The prospects of a breakthrough at the Vatican meeting next month are slim. Peres, a 90-year-old Nobel peace laureate, holds a largely ceremonial office and is set to step down this summer. But the pope’s gesture seemed to send a powerful message to the region’s leaders not to give up, weeks after the latest round of peace talks collapsed. After Francis made an unscheduled stop at the massive concrete barrier on Sunday, Netanyahu asked Francis to deviate from his whirlwind itinerary to pray at Jerusalem’s Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial, which includes the names of hundreds of civilians killed in Palestinian and Arab attacks since 1851, Lombardi and Netanyahu’s office said. As he did at the separation barrier and the Western Wall, Francis bowed his head in prayer and placed his hand on the stone. Lombardi said he then delivered a sweeping denunciation of terrorism in all its forms. At Yad Vashem, the pope prayed before a crypt with ashes of Holocaust victims and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers in the “Hall of Remembrance.”  Upon his arrival in Israel after visiting the West Bank, Francis clearly condemned the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, making up for what many Jews felt was a tepid speech from the German Pope Benedict XVI during his 2009 visit to Yad Vashem. On Monday, his actions almost spoke louder than his words. In one of the most poignant moments of the trip, Francis kissed the hands of six Holocaust survivors as he heard their stories.
“Never again, Lord, never again!” Francis said. “Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man — created in your own image and likeness — was capable of doing.” He repeated that phrase in writing in the memorial’s guest book.
The Language of Jesus
Aramaic appeared in the 10th century BCE and by the 5th century, it had become the major language in the Near East, spoken and written from Egypt to India. In Eretz Israel, Hebrew was still spoken in a late dialect which would survive until approximately the end of the 2nd century CE. However, the language that was spoken by most of the population was a dialect of Aramaic known as Western Aramaic. From what we know, in Galilee towards the end of the Second Temple Period, the only language spoken by the Jews was Aramaic, with Hebrew being preserved at the time only in the southern area of Judea. Thus, it safe to assume that the language of Jesus was Aramaic.  Aramaic remained the language of the Jewish and later Christian population of Eretz Israel during the Byzantine and later Muslim Periods, although it began steadily losing ground to Arabic. From the 6th century on, we have a large number of Christian texts written in Aramaic from Eretz Israel for the use of the Aramaic-speaking Christian community, which continued to exist until late into the Middle Ages. Aramaic in the dialect called Syriac has remained to this day the language of prayer for millions of Christians both in the Middle East and in the Diaspora, although in its spoken versions it is unfortunately fighting an uphill battle. Pilgrims to Israel can become better acquainted with this ancient language by visiting masses celebrated by the the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church and the Maronites.
Prof. Michael Sokoloff
Sudanese Christian women faces martyrdom!
The pregnant Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith has been spending her days shackled in prison, according to her husband. Meriam Ibrahim, 26, who is eight months pregnant, was sentenced to death last Thursday after being convicted of apostasy. The court in Khartoum delayed carrying out the ruling until Ibrahim gives birth and nurses her newborn. In the interim, she has been spending her days bound with shackles on her legs according to her husband, U.S. citizen Daniel Wani, a Christian, who was able to visit his wife for the first time on Monday. “He originally was not allowed to see her until this week,” Tina Ramirez, executive director of Hardwired, a U.S.-based advocacy group against religious persecution, told “Once he was able to, she was shackled and her legs were swollen.” Ramirez added that Ibrahim’s attorney is working on an appeal as international outrage over her persecution grows. In addition, a statement from several attorneys associated with the Sudanese high court was released Monday, calling for an appeal of Ibrahim’s death sentence. “The [Sudanese] government is afraid of the international attention,” Ramirez said. “They are paying attention and this [statement] is a sign of that.” Ibrahim and Wani were married in a formal ceremony in 2011 and have an 18-month-old son, Martin, who is with her in jail. The couple operates several businesses, including a farm, south of Khartoum, the country’s capital. Wani fled to the United States as a child to escape the civil war in southern Sudan, but later returned. He is not permitted to have custody of his son because the boy is considered Muslim and cannot be raised by a Christian man. Ibrahim’s case first came to the attention of authorities in August, after members of her father’s family complained that she was born a Muslim but married a Christian man. The relatives claimed her birth name was “Afdal” before she changed it to Meriam and produced a document that indicated she was given a Muslim name at birth. Her attorney has alleged the document was a fake. Ibrahim was initially charged with having illegitimate sex last year, but she remained free pending trial. She was later charged with apostasy and jailed in February after she declared in court that Christianity was the only religion she knew. “I was never a Muslim,” she told the Sudanese high court. “I was raised a Christian from the start.”
Sudan’s penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims to other religions, which is punishable by death. Muslim women in Sudan are further prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, although Muslim men are permitted to marry outside their faith. Children, by law, must follow their father’s religion.
This is a story from Fox News-and notice that they leave out an important point-THE REASON THIS IS THE CASE-IS THAT SUDANESE LAWS CONFORM WITH Islamic-Koranic SHARIA LAW.
Francis in Bethlehem: Will pope hear about abuse of Palestinian Christians?
Published May 23, 2014
On Sunday and Monday, May 25 and 26, Pope Francis will visit the Palestinian Territories and Israel during his first papal trip to the Holy Land. His Holiness will spend much of Sunday in Bethlehem, where roads have been repaired, flags raised, marching bands rehearsed, graffiti painted over, and security preparations cautiously organized. The public will welcome the pope to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, where he’ll celebrate Mass at 11 am. His arrival will be greeted with jubilant throngs of ordinary locals who long for a word of blessing and a promise of peace. But what will the pope learn in Bethlehem? In a scheduled meeting with the Palestinian Authority, he will doubtless hear from local politicians that the ancient city is suffering economically because of the Israeli security fence – in some places a wall – surrounding it. He is scheduled to meet Palestinian children at the Dehaishe refugee camp. He will most certainly receive complaints about the “occupation.” But which occupation? For centuries, Bethlehem was a Christian city, with believers comprising around 80% of the population as recently as 50 years ago. Today, however, it is less than 15% Christian, and that number continues to dwindle. Bethlehem is increasingly occupied by Muslims, some of whom exert great pressure on their Christian neighbors.  Since the Oslo Accords, it’s been the unspoken rule that “what happens to Christians in Bethlehem stays in Bethlehem.” That is beginning to change, however, thanks to young, courageous Christians like Christy Anastas. In a hard-hitting video released in April, Christy described what life was like for her and her Christian family in Bethlehem, and why she has begun to speak out against the multiple injustices, lack of free speech and abuse of women in her hometown. “Breaking through the silence and fear faced by so many Palestinians,” Luke Moon reported, “Christy described how her uncle, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, had to pay the al-jizyah, protection money that is often levied against non-Muslims. After some time her uncle refused to pay…. Because of his refusal to pay up he was murdered in front of his house.” Christy even dared to say that if she had been Israel’s Prime Minister during the 2nd Intifada, she too would have put up a security barrier to stop the suicide bombings. This is especially poignant, because her family home is surrounded by the wall – on three sides. Her story is alarming – she has received political asylum in Britain because of death threats from one of her own family members; others have disowned her. During a recent interview, I found Christy to be not only brave and eloquent, but utterly convincing. And now, perhaps thanks to her courage, others are also speaking out. Recently a young Bethlehem man – who will remain unnamed – told me about an attack on a Christian church. I passed it on to Dexter VanZile, who posted the story for “A Bethlehem Greek Orthodox Church (St. George's Church -- Khadar -- near Beit Jala) was attacked by Muslims during its annual St. George's Day services on May 6. ... Some local Muslims either tried to park a car too close the church and/or tried to enter the church during a service honoring St. George -- the initial instigation isn't clear. …Several then started throwing stones at the church.” Windows were broken, one worshipper was stabbed, and several others were injured. We later learned later that a young man’s face was badly beaten, requiring two surgeries. And as a smart-phone video revealed, the police didn’t arrive promptly enough to prevent damage, injuries and terror. Those aren’t the only stories. Now that the silence has been broken, reports abound about confiscated Christian property, honor killings and sexual molestation. Will the pope hear about these abuses against Christians? VanZile, who is Catholic, is doubtful. “The pope’s trip to Bethlehem highlights the bind Christians are in. If he doesn’t go, he misses an opportunity to show people how important the city is to Christians world wide. But when he does go, his presence will be used to score propaganda points to demonstrate just how wonderful Christians have it under the PA. “It’s just a mess. It’s an open scandal and everyone knows it, but no one can really talk about it.” Since it’s unlikely that Pope Francis will hear candid reports from local Christians during his rather formal visit to Bethlehem, I asked Christy Anastas what she would say to him if she had the opportunity. In her response, she surely speaks for countless others.  “I would ask the pope to recognize that the Palestinian Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place. Their problems are compounded because people only focus on the rock, Israel, but ignore the hidden injustices of the hard place – the Palestinian territories. These territories are increasingly being impacted by radical Islamists, whose ideologies are similar to those of Hamas....The pope must look at regional trends [such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq] and understand that the West Bank is just one small step away from replicating these.”
Lela Gilbert is author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians." She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. For more, visit her website: Follow her on Twitter@lelagilbert
Iraqi Christians attend an Easter worship service at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baghdad, April 20.
The edge of extinction
Iraq | The numbers say Christians may soon be no more in the Middle East, but the beleaguered churches in Baghdad are fighting risk with resilience
BAGHDAD—Sunday morning dawns bright, glaring bright, at St. George’s Church in Baghdad. In April daytime temperatures regularly climb to 100 degrees, but mornings and evenings are on the cool side, the air breezy and soft. Outside the church a rose garden is in full bloom—red, coral, yellow, white, and pink blossoms massed in border shrubs. Along one side of the garden is nothing but hedge, a thick, high wall of green giving a little shade and relief in the late afternoon. You have to stand close to see that the hedge is hiding a blast wall—concrete about 6 inches thick and 12 feet high runs the perimeter of the church property.  The front steps of St. George’s used to open onto a two-lane street with steady but subdued traffic in an area of government buildings. Anyone was welcome to enjoy the garden. That all changed when suicide bombers and insurgent fighters began targeting St. George’s and other churches in Baghdad shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
In 2005 five members of the church leadership disappeared—all presumed killed returning by car across the desert from a pastors’ meeting in Amman, Jordan. Bombings and rocket launches by terrorists multiplied—in 2005, 2007, and notably in 2009, when a bomb detonated near the church killed 100, injured hundreds more, and damaged every building on the property. To survive, St. George’s today sits surrounded by the concrete blast walls, and two checkpoints manned by a swarm of Iraqi soldiers have to be navigated before arriving at a fortified gate that can only be opened from the inside.  When U.S. troops made their final withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, many Americans thought the war had ended. But for most Iraqis, the terror that began with the U.S. arrival in 2003 has never stopped. Civilian deaths, in fact, currently are running at their highest level since the height of the U.S.-led war. The UN reported 8,868 casualties from insurgent-led attacks in 2013, the highest death toll since 2008. Sadly, the 2014 toll is keeping pace, with over 2,200 deaths reported in the first three months of the year.  The run-up to Iraq’s first national election following the U.S. withdrawal, scheduled for April 30, coincided with new aggression from foreign fighters spilling from neighboring Syria. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the new brand of al-Qaeda in Iraq, took over the city of Fallujah in January, and by April was making gains against Iraqi forces in Ramadi, just 80 miles from Baghdad. Overall, disgruntled Sunni militants are determined to undermine the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Christians continue to be targets. Three bombs on Christmas Day 2013 targeted Christian neighborhoods and a church in Baghdad, killing 37 and wounding 59. This year a car bomb near St. George’s in February killed two close associates of the church, shopkeepers who helped with supplies. Also that month, a car bombing along a main thoroughfare in central Baghdad’s Karada district killed a man who had attended the church, along with three others.  “We are all in such a desperate situation and all we have is our Lord and each other,” said Canon Andrew White, the British clergyman at St. George’s who improbably has come to be known as “the vicar of Baghdad.”  WHITE, WHO TURNS 50 this year, towers over the Iraqis he serves at 6 feet 3 inches and in size 16 shoes—yet he approaches his parishioners like a teddy bear. Children especially, but women and men also, get hugs as he greets each at the church doorway.  The mutual affection is surprising, considering that White does not speak Arabic. Communication happens through a translator, apart from what few greetings he manages in Arabic, plus prayers White can recite along with the congregation in Aramaic (not only the language of Jesus Christ but also the language of the Assyrians who made up Iraq’s earliest Christian community). With enthusiasm White tells the congregation the first Sunday in April, after several weeks of traveling overseas, “You are my people, in my beloved Iraq, and I am so glad to be back with you.”  Given the risks outside St. George’s blast walls, what’s surprising also is to see Iraqis arriving at the church by busloads for a Sunday afternoon worship service. Sunday in Baghdad is a workday, and most churches hold services at 5 p.m. The congregants stream in from neighborhoods nearby and across the Tigris River. Men talk on the sidewalk leading into the sanctuary, while women gather in knots of conversation in the rose garden, some in dark head coverings, Muslims who’ve come to collect a food ration but will hear what’s being taught at St. George’s along the way.
The Siege of Mosul: What’s happening? Why is it significant?
By Laura Smith-Spark and Nic Robertson, CNN
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
(CNN) -- For a while, Iraq faded from the collective consciousness. But what happened there Tuesday should make people sit up and take notice.
Extremist militants have overrun the northern city of Mosul, the country's second-largest. As many as half a million civilians have fled their homes to escape the violence, and the brazen incursion has highlighted all the weaknesses of the government's ability to maintain security.
Here's how things got to this point.
So, what happened?
Monday night into Tuesday, militants seized Mosul's airport, its TV stations and the governor's office. They freed up to 1,000 prisoners.
Police and soldiers ran from their posts rather than put up a fight, abandoning their weapons as they went. The militants took their place in the city's boulevards and buildings.
"There was no presence of any government forces on the streets, the majority of their posts destroyed and manned by (Islamist militants)," resident Firas al-Maslawi told CNN.
Why is this significant?
Mosul is the nation's second-largest city. What's happening here doesn't bode well for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's administration. It calls into question whether he has a handle on the country.
The devastating militant advance, which had been building for some time, is proving an object lesson of much that is wrong in Iraq and the region -- growing sectarian tensions at home and a festering civil war over the border in Syria.
It also shows that the extremists are seeking to extend their influence and can strike swiftly and effectively against Iraq's American-trained security forces.
Who are the militants?
They're part of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group. Here's how extreme the militant group is: Even al Qaeda has disowned it.
The Mosul siege has made ISIS the single most dangerous, destabilizing radical group in the region.
The group is also known by some as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Its members include Europeans as well as Chechens, Turks and many fighters from other Arab countries, some attracted by the conflict in Syria.
What do they want?
They want to establish an Islamic caliphate, or state, stretching across the region.
ISIS has begun imposing Sharia law in Syrian towns it controls, like Raqqa, forcing women to wear the full veil, or niqab, in public and banning music.
Have they made such incursions before?
Yes. In past months, they've wrested control of Iraqi cities like Falluja and parts of Ramadi from authorities, just as they've done with Syrian towns over the border.
Militants believed to be from ISIS have also taken control of two villages in Iraq's Kirkuk province and seized parts of the oil town of Baiji in Salaheddin province, authorities said.
Have they been able to keep their control?
Not really. Despite the territorial advances it has made in Sunni-dominated Anbar and Nineveh provinces, ISIS still has "significant weaknesses," a U.S. counterterrorism official says.
"It has shown little ability to govern effectively, is generally unpopular, and has no sway outside the Sunni community in either Iraq or Syria."
How is all this tied to Syria?
ISIS grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq. In the west of Iraq, its militants were responsible for killing and maiming many U.S. troops. In 2006, their commander -- the bloodthirsty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- was killed in a U.S. strike.
In the years afterward, with American help, Iraqi tribal militias put the al Qaeda upstart on the defensive.
But when U.S. troops left, the extremist militants found new leadership, went to Syria, grew stronger and returned to Iraq, making military gains often off the backs of the foreign fighters drawn to Syria's conflict.
Now the group has footholds in both countries and is blamed for destabilizing both.
In Syria, where its forces have clashed with other Islamist groups, observers say the internecine fighting has played into the hands of Bashar al-Assad's regime by distracting rival factions from their campaign against the Syrian military.
What's the situation in Mosul right now?
More than 500,000 civilians have fled since the fighting started over the weekend, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The northern city's four main hospitals are inaccessible because of fighting, and some mosques have been converted to clinics, the IOM said.
There's a lack of drinking water in the western part of the city since the main water station for the area has been destroyed by bombing. Food is running low and few areas are receiving electricity, while fuel for generators is also running out.
What does this mean for Iraq?
While Iraq is plagued by multiple daily car bombings and suicide attacks, the sheer scale of the attack on Mosul -- and the brewing humanitarian crisis tied to it -- bodes ill for the country's stability.
According to the United Nations, last year was Iraq's most violent in five years, with more than 8,800 people killed, most of them civilians.
Already this year, almost half a million people have been displaced from their homes in central Anbar province by fighting between the same extremist group and government forces.
One major reason Mosul made headlines is how swiftly the city, to all intents and purposes, fell.
What does this mean for the United States and the West?
The last U.S. military forces left Iraq at the end of 2011, after nearly nine years of deadly and divisive war in the country.
Talks that might have allowed a continued major military presence broke down amid disputes about whether U.S. troops would be immune to prosecution by Iraqi authorities.
Iraq's security forces, trained by the United States at a cost of billions of dollars, have proved unable to dislodge the militants from strongholds in Anbar province and have now been routed in Mosul.
The result seems likely to be continued or growing instability in Iraq and the wider region.
This, at a time when the global economy is recovering, could have an unwelcome impact on oil markets.
There's also concern that foreign fighters with ISIS may go back to their native countries, in Europe and elsewhere, and carry out terror attacks there. That worry was heightened last month by the shooting deaths of four people at a Jewish Museum in Belgium; the suspect, according to French officials, recently spent a year in Syria and is a radicalized Islamist.
Don't feel helpless with the current situation befalling Assyrian Christians, there are many way you can help.
1. Pray - that God protects them from this evil and gives them strength and hope.
2. Donate - There are many christians organisations, NGOs helping the Christian Refugees.
3. Spread the news - Tell everyone about the situation, the more people know the plight of Assyrian Christians in Iraq the better.
4. Get online and spread the Message about the situation.
5. Tell you local government members, write letters, through social media, any means.
You can do all or many of the above, not doing anything does not help anyone!