Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were about one million Iraqi Christians living in the country. Years of persecution by religious extremists have caused that number to be cut in half, according to Dr. Mazen Alsaqa, an Iraqi Christian refugee living in the United States.
Alsaqa’s father, a prominent leader in a Presbyterian church in Mosul, Iraq, was among the number of Iraqi Christians killed since al-Qaida moved into the country following the invasion.
As a seventh-generation Iraqi Christian, Alsaqa is no stranger to the persecution of Christians in the country, but that has never managed to make his faith waver. In fact, it’s only made it stronger.
“During the 2,000 years of Christianity in the Middle East, we’ve always endured persecution in cycles. People in Iraq take it as this is a challenge to our faith and belief, especially in those situations,” he said by phone Wednesday during a visit in East Tennessee. “Yes, it’s very painful when you lose people, but there’s still people that go to the church and try to practice their faith as much as they can.”
Alsaqa was in the region this week speaking at various churches and other organizations as an international peacemaker with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
Following his father’s kidnapping and murder in 2006, Alsaqa fled to Jordan before being granted refugee status in the U.S. in 2009. He lives in Michigan, where he is studying to practice medicine at Wayne State University Medical School.
During his time in the area, Alsaqa spoke on a number of subjects, including the challenges of the Christian church in the Middle East.
Following the beginning of the war in Iraq, which Alsaqa said had a hand in seeing the number of Iraqi Christians dwindle, is when Christian persecution in Iraq really started to increase.
“We need the people to understand that there is a lot of persecuted Christians in Iraq — and in the Middle East — for us as Christians, it is our duty to stand for these people and find support for these people,” he said.
Much of Alsaqa’s work as an international peacemaker has been through the Iraq Partnership Network, a ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that has more than 38 mission networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest.
Alsaqa said the network has been able to support both Iraqi Christians in Iraq and Iraqi refugees living in the states.
Without his faith, Alsaqa said he wouldn’t be able to live with the hope that Christianity brings him. While it might be hard to forgive those who persecute, Alsaqa said it is what he has been called to do as a Christian.
“For me as a person, it would be very difficult for me unless I am living with that faith that I carry with myself,” he said.
More information about the PC (U.S.A.) Peacemaking Program and the Iraq Partnership Network can be found at www.gamc.pcusa.org.