Friday, January 26, 2018

Andreas Knapp's THE LAST CHRISTIANS: "Christians: The Unlikely Immigrants"

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The Last Christians:  Stories of Persecution, Flight, Resilience in the Middle East
by Andreas Knapp
“Christians:  The Unlikely Refugees”

“Jonah sighs, “We have lost everything.  Even our history.  After nearly two thousand years, we have been uprooted.  Can such an old tree ever be transplanted?”  He goes on to relate how IS terrorists cut down and burned all the trees in his family’s garden in Mosul – a symbolic act by those seeking the root-and-branch destruction of the Christian population.
-Excerpt, The Last Christians, page 36
Two thousand years ago the Man named Jesus walked the very same soil and spoke the very same language that Christians from Mosul, Iraq walk and speak to this very day; but their numbers are slowly disintegrating due to oppression bought on by the Islamic State.    Most people are not aware of these Aramaic speaking Christians who have existed and strived for centuries and who are presently enduring every form of persecution known to mankind.
       German native and priest Father Andreas Knapp, 60, resides in the housing project of Grunau in Leipzig, Germany, which is a temporary home to these Iraqi and Syrian Christians who have been forced out of their own homeland.

My community, the Little Brothers of Jesus, traces its origins back to this adventurer turned desert monk.  Four of us have shared a house in a prefab housing project on the outskirts of Leipzig for the past ten years, and every year we invite friends and members of our parish to our ceremony on the first Sunday of Advent.  When we were searching for a theme for our social 2014 event, my fellow brother, Gianluca, had a brilliant idea:  “Charles de Foucault (Left)  spent six years living as a monk in Syria.  I have a Syrian colleague who’s lived in Leipzig for years and is a Christian.  He could tell us about the situation of Christians in Syria.”  We liked the idea and Gabriel and his family were duly invited.
       As our little gathering gets under way, we are astonished to see more faces in the room.  Gabriel has interpreted our invitation very freely and brought a number of refugees from Syria and Iraq along with him.

Father Andreas cares for these Christians, counseling them on spiritual matters, as well as the trauma in their past and the trauma of living in a foreign country.  He aids them in adapting to their new environments:  from helping them fill out paper work to teaching them how to adapt to a new culture. They are the immigrants, the strangers in the strange country, seeking asylum wherever they can find it. 

One of these families - is Yousif and his wife Tara and their two children – 12-year-old son Amanuel and 10-year-old daughter Shaba.  The family of four live in the 11-story apartment block in the Militzer Alee on the third floor.  Yousif deals with not only the persecution for being a Christ-centered Christian but the guilt of having to leave behind his sick father in order to save his wife and children.  
       Two years after the family’s forced exodus from Mosul, Iraq Yousif with the help of Father Andreas (Right) is able to get a legal and valid passport and plans to visit his father after the New Year of 2016; but his father dies and the plans for the trip of reunion are turned to a trip of mourning.  Father Andres pledges to accompany Yousif from Germany to Mosul, Iraq and attend his father’s funeral with him.       
With only a knapsack for his luggage, Father Andres (Left) encounters people from the region of Iraq and Syria who are Christ-loving Christians and have for over 2000 years claimed this homeland as their birth.
       Father Andreas Knapp detailed his journey and personal experiences in the book The Last Christians Stories of Persecution, Flight, and Resilience in the Middle East published in September of 2017 by Plough Publishing House with cover photograph by Louai Beshara; and translation by Sharon Howe.
These Christians not only have the same language and belief in the gospel as identified by Jesus but also share the same ideology as Jesus Christ:  to love the Lord God with all their heart, love their neighbors and their enemies. The most
controversial ideology held and exemplified by Jesus Christ is that of practicing non-violence,
which these Christians believe is essential to the expression of their faith.   And this essential expression or tenant of their faith is not exemplified begrudgingly but out of love for Christ and their neighbor and enemy– they practice non-violence even in the face of severe persecution to the elderly, men, women, children, and even babies.
       These elderly, men, women, children and babies for simply being Christian were and are persecuted in numerous ways:

-forced to pay protection money in the disguise as special taxes.  If they do not pay the money the individuals are brutally murdered or have limbs cut off.
* From January to June of 2014 Christians were forced to pay protection money to the jihadists in the amount of $15 million dollars per month.

-stripped of money, property and possessions:
       * Christian homes marked scarlet red, a signal that the home was Christian and an invitation for extremists to loot and destroy the home.

-rape and forced prostitution of Christian girls and women

*Christian girls and women were raped for not wearing a veil.
* One woman was raped and beaten repeatedly for days by 12 men.  These rapes can turn to bestial abuse; one woman was so distraught about the abuse that she took rat poison in hopes of a quick death but convulsed for hours before she died.
       *The IS warriors consider the “unbelieving” girls and women to be their own rewards for being warriors.  As a result, these girls and women were raped repeatedly and some sold in slave sex trade market.

-bomb attacks and destruction of Christian businesses.
       *On December 25, 2013, at least 26 Christians were killed and 38 Christians wounded in a car bomb attack in the Christian marketplace of Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood.

* In 2008, Muslim extremists kidnapped Bishop Pilos Faraj Rahho (Left) Their goal was to force the church to supply them with Christian suicide bombers in exchange for Bishop Pilos Faraj Rahho’s life.   His church exemplified Jesus’s teaching and example of non-violence and he was murdered.

       *On September 10, 2006 Syrian Orthodox Priest Abuna Paulos Iskandar (Right) of Yousif’s family’s home church Mar Aphrem – was kidnapped by Muslim extremists, who demanded that the church disown a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensbur, Germany: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman such as his command to spread the sword the faith he preached.”  The relatives of Priest Iskandar disowned the speech and paid the ransom.  Priest Iskandar’s legs and arms were cut off; he was disemboweled; and then beheaded.

-forced conversion to the Muslim faith
       * The Christians were forced out of their homeland of Mosul only to be given a welcome back but then again given a choice on July 18, 2014 by self appointed caliph of the IS the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi  – convert to our form of Muslim or be killed by the sword

-desecration of historical churches, cannons, and relics some thousands of years old.
       *In April of 2015, Mosul’s Cathedral Church of Saint Ephrem was looted by the Islamic religious fighters and is now known as the “Mosque of the Majahideen.”  This desecration from a church to a radical mosque included the severing of the cross at the arms and the body covered by the Islamic State flag and crest.    

-desecration of dead bodies –killing people and blowing up the bodies to tiny shreds in order to prevent proper burial. 
       *On June 3, 2007 Muslim extremists killed Abuna Reghild (also known as Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni) and three deacons and blew up their corpses disintegrating it into tiny shreds.

Father Andreas (Right) reveals in his book how appalled and horrified he was of the atrocities these Christians endure but more importantly he questions himself if he has done everything he can to be aware of the atrocities that are happening.

I wonder whether I haven’t been paying enough attention to the persecution of Iraqi Christians in the news.  Or do such stories simply vanish too quickly from the radar of our Western media?  The unfortunate law of habitation dictates that when terror attacks are carried out with such brutal regularity, they become too routine to mention – and I, like anyone else, am a consumer of news.  In that sense, the Mosul Christians share the fate of victims in many of the world’s trouble spots.  Who spares a thought for the murdered of El Salvador, the gang wars in Congo, the torture victims in the prisons of many dictatorships or the attacks still being carried out in Baghdad?

In 1990 there were 1.4 million Christians actively worshiping in five hundred churches in Iraq; 200,000 and 30 churches resided in Mosul alone.  Today it is declared a “Christian free zone.”
There is so much more in this book – Father Andres (Below Left)  talks about the misconceptions of Muslims and the danger in grouping all Muslims as radical or extremists; he talks about the Armenian Christian Genocide of 1915; but more importantly he asks two vital questions to himself and to other Christians across the globe:

Whenever I hear stories like this and meet Christians of such courage, I can’t help but wonder:  How much is my faith worth to me?  How high a price would I be prepared to pay?

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