Praying with the Persecuted at the Gates of the White House
As so often happens, I had planned to make this week a slow one—mostly to catch up on my memoir, which I’ve abandoned too often in recent days. But, as we say, God had other plans.
On Tuesday, Rev. Pat Mahoney called me to say he was meeting up in Washington with persecuted people from Iraq. He asked if I would join him. How could I say no?
On Wednesday we met Faysal Shaqooli, a spokesman for the American Yazidi community, one of the religious minorities targeted with extinction by the radical jihadi terrorists called ISIS. He has been in the U.S. for some time because he was targeted for assassination years ago, after technically assisting U.S. forces during the recent war. Faysal’s mother and sister remain in Iraq and are in grave danger. His mother is in the mountains facing serious illness due to unsanitary conditions, if not dehydration and starvation. His sister is in even greater peril. She was taken to a prison controlled by the terrorists after her husband was banded up with thousands of other men and presumably executed. The whereabouts of their children is uncertain.
Scores of American Yazidi came to Washington this week to demand that President Obama order the military to intervene. While the Yazidi religion is non-Christian, they have a very long history of friendship with Christians in Iraq. Their families often intermarry and they protect one another. Just as they’ve lived together, Iraqi Yazidis and Christians have suffered together in this latest disaster. Thousands have been murdered, and their women and children are being marked for sale on wife-market.
The Yazidis showed me photos of their family and friends stacked up in mass graves after being summarily shot by ISIS goons. The images brought back the terrible feeling I had when, as a boy, my father showed me similar photos of our fellow Jews in Nazi mass gave sites.
This is another holocaust—this time of Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. One of the Yazidi leaders said to Pat and me, “If the United States won’t help us, maybe Israel will. To show our gratitude, every family will send one male to serve in their army. We promise!”
On Thursday, I went to the gates of the White House to join with dozens of Yazidis that gathered there. They were loudly crying out to President Obama, pleading with him to send military help to their stricken communities. In the fervor, with shouting, crying, and chanting all around, they yelled to me, “What can you do to help us?”
I told them I had already spoken to government officials and Christian relief agencies. I had drafted and successfully worked for passage of a resolution at the annual meeting of my denominational body calling attention to the crisis. Of course, none of that was enough to console them. I was left with only one way to help, I explained. To offer up prayers to the God that can save them. I asked if I could do that right there, in front of the White House gates. They said “Yes, yes, yes.”
I invited their spokesman to kneel with me, which he did. Others joined us. In that prayer time, I held a picture of the body of a little girl killed in the calamity. Another little Yazidi girl stood next to me holding a poster-sized photo of children traumatized and crying. It was horrible. I pled with God to mercifully look down on these suffering people and their Christian friends, and to move on the hearts of all good people to help them. I asked especially for the Lord to move the heart of President Obama to come to their aid. Right after I pronounced, “In Jesus name, Amen,” the Yazidis began chanting, “Save the Christians of Iraq! Save the Christians of Iraq!” I was speechless.
As you saw, God heard and answered those prayers. Last night, just hours after we prayed, President Obama spoke to the nation about the Christians and the Yazidis, and announced he had authorized humanitarian and military aid.
Tomorrow, Saturday, August 9, I will be at the White House gates again, this time as Pat hosts Iraqi Christians who have family and friends in the same horrible circumstances. We will pray with them, too. Of course, they love the Lord and are in the family, so we’ll have so much more in common. I’m really looking forward to being with them. The Yazidis, though, made for a very meaningful Christian ministry opportunity. Let me explain.
The Yazidi religion is very old. It predates both Christianity and Islam. They claim it predates Judaism. (Well, perhaps “modern Judaism,” but couldn’t be biblical religion.) In any case, Yazidiism is at least related to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion. Many scholars believe the wise men that came from the east to find the Christ child, using the Bethlehem star to guide them, were Zoroastrians. If so, I find it fascinating that all these millennia later, their religious and ethnic descendants may have again bowed in the presence of the only Savior.
Like the wise men in search of the Christ Child, we must keep focused on the only Savior of humankind. At times like these, we’re tempted to place our trust, “in chariots and horses, “ but, as the Psalmist reminds us, “we must remember the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)
Yesterday I told the Yazidis just that—and today, they are learning it is true.
Please continue to pray for all our neighbors in Iraq, and especially those of the household of faith.