As I walked into a gray camp full of similarly displaced Christians, a young girl with plump, black braids ran up to me and grabbed my hands. “Hello!” she shouted in broken English. “I am Tamara! I love you!”
Since we were evidently fast friends, I sat down with Tamara and her mother in their tin can of a temporary home.
Tamara’s mom told me how they and seven other families had fled their home in Qaraqosh, barely in front of the advancing killers. Their driver got lost. They prayed, she said, and he found a safe road.
This woman lost her left eye to a terrorist bomb a few years ago. But her focus is clear. “I want people in the U.S. to pray for us to return home,” she told me through an interpreter. “We’ve been in this camp for so long. Our kids have no schools. No education. We keep thinking, this month we will go home this month we will go home. But still we are here.”
When I asked her if it’s hard to trust God in her circumstances, she smiled at me patiently, like a teacher with a remedial student.
“These sufferings have increased our faith in God. Without God we can do nothing. Even when we were trying to escape to get here, God changed our direction on the road, away from ISIS. At 11 p.m. each night, we ring a bell, and we all pray here in the camp. We have confidence that God is with us and He will do what is good for us. He saved us from ISIS, and He will get us home.”
I also met a grandfather who told me his family didn’t even know ISIS was advancing on their town until a mortar landed in the courtyard where his grandsons were playing. Their grandmother was with them. She felt a flash of light, an enormous explosion, and a rain of shredded flesh. The little boys and a friend were killed.
The grandfather showed me terrible photos of the aftermath. The entire courtyard was smeared with blood.
I asked him about his faith. Did it still exist in the face of such horror?
“Yes!” he said vehemently. “I believe! And one thing I know. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all evil.”
A few weeks ago, I stood in the wreckage of a village church in Egypt. It had been burned by Muslim Brotherhood adherents. The cross had been wrenched from the chancel; the window grills and ceiling fans were bent and melted. Charred Bibles lay in the ashes. I climbed with the pastor up a still-standing stairway to the apartment where he and his family had lived. A Winnie the Pooh mural was still visible on the scorched wall of his little daughter’s room.
The family had been away when the terrorists attacked. I asked the pastor how he had coped with such loss, violation, and hatred.
“What do we do in the face of evil?” he asked. “We do what Jesus did. We pray, and we forgive. Even after the destruction, we would still have fed the Muslim Brotherhood if they were hungry, or cared for them if they were sick.”
Back here at home, terrorism has drawn closer in recent months. Bloody death at an office party in California. Carnage in Paris. Arrests of sleeper terrorists. Random shootings pop up on our news feeds almost every day.
In the ugly uncertainty, I’ve thought often of the brave brothers and sisters I met in the Middle East, and their absolute reliance on faith and prayer.
Surely our nation needs to wisely focus its military, political, and material resources on the war at hand. But peace in the face of horror comes only through spiritual power. As the Old Testament says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Chariots, horses, and 21st century instruments of battle are well and good in the right hands. But in these chaotic times, stalked by evil, our ultimate hope is the gritty, courageous truth that our Christian friends in the Middle East have practiced for years: robust faith and constant prayer for the eternal care of One who is greater than ourselves, the One who spilled His blood to cleanse us from all evil.
They know that prayer may not always change our immediate situation in this life. But it always changes us.
Ellen Vaughn is a New York Times bestselling author and inspirational speaker who has written or co-written more than 20 books. Former vice president of executive communications for Prison Fellowship, she collaborated with the late Chuck Colson on a number of his seminal books. She serves as a senior fellow for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, and on the board of directors for International Cooperating Ministries.
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