A few years ago, a 9-year-old Iraqi refugee girl powerfully reminded the world what it is to forgive — and to see hope — even in the face of evil. Her words and actions still pack a punch as we mark World Refugee Day this month.
In 2014, Myriam was uprooted from her home in Iraq by Islamic State and fled to a refugee camp with her family, away from her friends and everything familiar. On their rampage of death and destruction, ISIS militants drove thousands of Iraqi Christians like Myriam from their homes, leaving entire towns in ruins.
Yet Myriam — in the midst of a crowded refugee camp — astonished the world by sweetly and eloquently telling SAT-7 TV interviewer Essam Nagy that she forgave ISIS, she wished them no harm, and actually prayed the terrorists would come to know God’s forgiveness, too.
The indwelling power of her simple words of forgiveness was unleashed by satellite television, translated into multiple languages, and went viral on social media. Myriam’s innocence and fortitude in the midst of tragedy and turmoil endeared her to the hearts of millions around the world.
Myriam’s choice teaches us that if love is the most powerful of human expressions, forgiveness is a close second.
Forgiveness liberates both the offended and the offender, the former from resentment and bitterness, and the latter from retribution. Forgiveness does not ignore evil. It leaves the ultimate disposition for evil actions to a holy, just and sovereign God. Romans 12:19-21 (ESV) tells us: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to... God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In 2019, Myriam, now 13, and her family are blessed to be back in their hometown in northern Iraq – and her example for people to forgive and to honor God in their lives is stronger than ever. “God is always with you,” Myriam says. “When you feel yourself alone, just go and talk with Him. You will find the right way.”
There are millions of “Myriams” across the Middle East and North Africa, children forced from their homes by war and bloodshed, living in dire conditions. Not all are as fortunate as Myriam. Thousands have lost parents and siblings; many have yet to return home - and many more have no home to return to. Iraq’s Christian population - once blossoming in the “cradle of Christianity” - is now on the edge of survival. Yet this new generation is what Essam Nagy calls “the pearls in the sand,” each child of infinite value, a rare treasure to be cherished.
Surely it is up to all of us to defend and protect these children of war, these children of promise? And now is our time to act!
One little girl did more to inspire peace among adversaries than a hundred celebrities or a thousand politicians.
How? Because the Holy Spirit speaks through the mind, heart and voice of a child.
Our critical assignment is to feed these fragile children the words and wisdom of Christ who alone can heal, restore and bring peace. That’s why I believe Christian television has such a crucial role to play in transforming the next generation in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. Television – and SAT-7 especially – became a refuge for Myriam in the refugee camp, and TV has the ability to reach into the hearts and minds of children in the most desperate situations.
You and I can help our brothers and sisters in the Middle East ignite hope by making God’s love visible to each and every person. This most effectively begins with the next generation, the “pearls in the sand.”
As we wonder at - and learn from - Myriam’s amazing example of forgiveness, let’s remember what Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 (ESV): “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
Rex Rogers is the president of SAT-7 USA. Launched in 1996, SAT-7 (www.sat7usa.org) - with its international headquarters in Cyprus – broadcasts Christian and educational satellite television programs to more than 25 million people in the Middle East and North Africa. Its mission is to make the gospel available to everyone in the region, and support the church in its life, work and witness for Jesus Christ. SAT-7 broadcasts 24/7 in Arabic, Farsi (Persian) and Turkish, using multiple satellite channels and online services.