بيانات صحفية / مواقف

Arab Christians stand firm despite declining numbers   16/10/2013

By Frank Stirk  |  Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The precipitous decline in the number of Christians in the part of the world where Jesus was born is causing some observers to conclude only a relative handful of believers could soon be left there. But while many flee the violence and terror brought against them by radical Islamists and civil war, others are determined to stay.

"One Iraqi pastor in Kirkuk told me he really pleads with the Christians there not to leave, because if everybody goes, the light of the gospel will be extinguished," says Greg Musselman, vice-president of outreach with Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

Geoff Tunnicliffe, the Canadian-born secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, has heard a similar resolve. "As I talk with leaders from the region, all of them state they're not going anywhere," he says.

A century ago, Christians comprised as high as 20 per cent of the population of the region. That number has fallen to about four per cent, or around 13 million. By one estimate, Iraq's Christian population has fallen by 85 per cent in the past decade alone.

"At the present rate of decline," says Reza Aslan in the journal Foreign Relations, "there may very well be no significant Christian presence in the Middle East in another generation or two."

Edmonton physician Hany Guirgis, who left Egypt for Canada 11 years ago due to his faith, remembers a more peaceful time.

"I was raised with Muslim friends, with Muslim neighbours. They are very precious to me," he says. "We are not against a certain religion or ideology, if it is not violent and not preventing other people from living peacefully."

In September, Tunnicliffe took part in a global conference hosted by King Abdullah of Jordan on ways to bridge the divide between the two faiths. Part of his message was to stress the benefits of maintaining strong Christian communities within Muslim countries.

"Christians actually own a disproportionate number of the businesses in the region compared to their size," he says. "In Egypt it's 30 per cent. They're a vital part of the economy. And if they leave by the thousands, that's detrimental to those countries."

Tunnicliffe believes his message was heard. "I'm under no illusion that we fixed many problems," he says, "but it allows for ongoing discussion that may start opening doors."

But Musselman doubts these efforts will make much immediate difference. "It's been terrible there for a long time," he says. "When it comes to persecution, of the 10 worst countries for Christians to live in, seven are Muslim."

And yet, more Muslims than ever in the Middle East are reportedly becoming Christians, especially since 9/11.

"Just in our network of ministries and partnerships, there are amazing things going on," says Musselman. "I've interviewed so many former Muslims that had dreams or visions or something supernatural that caused them to come to Christ."

But Tunnicliffe also believes that evangelicals "have to take some responsibility as a global community to help keep the Christian presence in the region."

"It would be wonderful," he says, "if more Christian tourists would visit Jordan. They'd be supporting the local economy, which in turn would help the Christians stay there."


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