The battle for Mosul, the last major stronghold of ISIS in Iraq, has begun, and the world is watching. Three years ago, many Americans likely had never heard of the city or knew of the Nineveh Plains, which are nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq and home to the ancient city of Nineveh.
All of that changed when ISIS took Mosul in June 2014. Photos and stories of barbaric executions and persecution drew the world's gaze. The homes of Christians were marked with ن, the Arabic letter nun (pronounced "noon"), which stands for "Nasara" or Nazarene. They were branded as Christians who must convert to Islam, pay a punitive tax for their faith, or pay with their lives. The latter was the intended outcome; ISIS marked Christians for extermination in a manner reminiscent of the Nazis branding Jews with the Star of David.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it," John 1:5.
God always brings light out of darkness; this evil situation is no different. The Nineveh Plains is the picture of divine grace and the power of the Gospel.
Men, women, and children refused to renounce Christ, knowing they would be killed — in gruesome fashion — as a result. These dear brothers and sisters in Christ encapsulated the kind of faith spoken of in Hebrews 11. The power of the Cross is revealed in their faithfulness, and the world bore witness.
The Nineveh Plains, the region where Nineveh resided, is known today as one of Christianity's oldest civilizations. The region of the city Jonah thought lost beyond hope of repentance is the land where Christians chose to forfeit their own lives rather than renounce the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
That is the power of the Gospel.
The region Jonah thought hopeless has become a modern testament to the power of the Cross.
Terrorism has no power over redemption. ISIS may take land, destroy ancient churches, and attack and mutilate image-bearers of God; but, they cannot touch the soul, nor can they extinguish the Gospel.
And that is why we have hope. The news seems to be filled with discouraging headlines and soundbites, but we serve a God who is sovereign over all. The same God who strengthens our brothers and sisters in Christ facing persecution and martyrdom also strengthens us.
Christ told us in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Jonah fled God's calling, because his vision of God's redemptive power was too small. When God redirected him, used him, and the people of Nineveh repented, Jonah still missed the big picture that God is indeed holy and just, but also full of mercy and grace.
Do we ever fall into the same trap of shortsightedness? This election cycle has generated even more conflict and division than usual. Yes, the election is important and we should exercise our right to vote, but our hope should be in Christ alone. God uses governments and authorities for His purposes, but His end goal is much greater than the next president of the United States or who controls Mosul. God cares about those outcomes, but He cares even more about human souls.
God raised up unwavering Christians in a land Jonah thought was unredeemable.
Terrorists captured the region, and many believed the church in Mosul was destroyed. But there is always a remnant. I heard an Iraqi pastor, who planted a church in Mosul prior to the invasion of ISIS, refute that claim. He said the church is in hiding, but alive and enduring despite the martyrdom of six church leaders. What heartbreaking joy to know the faith of those believers.
That is the God we serve. Our faith should reflect the power of our Lord and His Gospel and dictate how we respond to the issues of our day.
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind," 2 Timothy 2:17.
Pray for the liberation of Mosul, and that it may become a haven for Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. Pray for favor with the Iraqi government so that can happen. There has been a resolution introduced in Congress affirming the Nineveh Plains should be a haven for religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq, such as the Christians and Yazidis. It is also important to point out that ISIS has targeted Shia Muslims and Yazidis, as well as Christians, and other groups they see as outside their sect of Islam. Pray for the election, pray for Mosul, and pray for God to send workers for the harvest here and abroad.