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Love in the Ruins of Mosul

Children in Erbil’s Baharka refugee camp

Emrah Yorulmaz / ANADOLU AGENCY

ERBIL, IRAQ - SEPTEMBER 15: A girl who fled from Daesh violence in Mosul plays with her teddy bear and doll outside her shelter at Baharka refugee camp in Erbil on September 15, 2015. Emrah Yorulmaz / Anadolu Agency

Matthew Becklo - published on 12/11/15

The "People of the Cross" spread the message of Christianity even as their world crumbles around them

The world was horrified after a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya was released by ISIS in early 2015. But for the people of Mosul, the brutality of the ISIS regime had become a daily reality when the terrorist group took over the Iraqi city months earlier. Christians living in Mosul faced a grim choice: they could convert to Islam, pay a crushing fine or leave the city within 24 hours. If they didn’t leave, they were summarily executed. (As Kirsten Powers notes in USA Today, it’s only gotten worse from there – in fact, what’s happening to Christians in the Middle East is now nothing short of genocide.)

Shortly after that video was released, a very different type of video made the rounds, one with beautiful imagery and a letter “from the People of the Cross”:

Love is coming after you
Like a rush of wind grazing over the pacific
From hills of the mount of olives to the desert winds of Jordan
From the cedars of Lebanon to the silk roads of the East
An army comes. With no tanks or soldiers
But an army of martyrs faithful unto death
Carrying a message of life
The people of the cross
Comes to die at your gates
If you wont hear our message with words
Then we will show you with our lives
Laid down

“Who Would Dare to Love ISIS” was created by Michael Chang, founder of “media missionary” organization Mighty.LA. In an interview with National Review, Chang admits that the idea behind the video was farthest thing from natural or easy. But after the propaganda out of Libya, he felt called to remind ISIS who they are, and Christians who they are called to be — not as a political statement, but as a refusal to lose sight of the message of radical love at the heart of the Gospels.

“There’s definitely a sense in the Western church that we’ve really fallen short of what it means to be Christ-followers,” Chang explains. “We see what God is doing in other parts of the world and we’re left wondering why and how we’ve lost that first love … ISIS continues to murder people because they’ve never experienced a love like this … how much guilt must hang over the hearts of ISIS members, who behead people? They might never admit it, but I know the guilt and shame is there. Hurt people hurt people, and loved people love.”

(A photographic collection of refugee children sleeping on the ground throughout the region is food for thought in this regard. Could some of ISIS’ members have had a childhood like this, sleeping on the ground after seeing their loved ones arrested and executed? Are these children, who are afraid of their pillows because they associate them with nighttime gunfire, primed to die by the sword like their persecutors? What if they had been loved their whole lives instead? Where would they be now?)

On the heels of ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Chang is out with a new documentary short featuring nine Christian refugees from all walks of life — a lecturer, a cook, a student, a police officer — describing how their lives were turned upside down in Mosul and addressing their persecutors.

“On 6.9.14,” the video begins, “ISIS invaded Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. Half a million people fled in the next two days, leaving behind everything they owned. From the ruins, nine refugees dare to testify of a love that no one can take away.”

The Nine brings us face-to-face with people — not political or social abstractions, but flesh and blood individuals with children and jobs and daily routines — who have been swallowed up in the darkness of violence. But even as their lives crumble around them, it’s that love and forgiveness that still burns in their eyes and speech — that perennial mark of the people of the cross — that makes this unforgettable.

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father, amateur philosopher and cultural commentator at AleteiaandWord on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish and Real Clear Religion.

Coptic ChristiansIslamist MilitantsLibya
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