Christians in Iraq and Syria are facing terrible persecution. They are being kidnapped, driven from their villages and killed.
The Assyrians live in northern Iraq and in north eastern Syria along the Khabour River. They are an ancient Christian people, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Many have been killed in the current wave of persecutions. The Assyrian diaspora around the world in Europe, Canada, the United States and Australia are grieving for their families in the homeland.
But God has been preparing a ray of hope. Over the past 20 plus years a team of Assyrian scholars and translators have been translating the Scriptures into contemporary, vernacular Assyrian, assisted by personnel from the Aramaic Bible Translation, Wycliffe Bible Translators and other partners. Until now Assyrians have been using the ancient Syriac Peshitta translation, the same text as their forefathers were using in the fifth century, which clergy and laity alike have had a hard time reading and understanding.
The year of 2015 saw the publication of the New Testament and Psalms, and a service of dedication was held at the Assyrian Christian Church in Chicago. At the dedication Demsin, one of the translators, read selections from the Psalms, including Psalm 115:1, shown here in Assyrian and in English.
Not to us, O Lord, but to your Name give glory,
Because of your love and because of your faithfulness.
Greetings were read from the Assyrian Church of the East, the Armenian, Syriac and other Eastern Orthodox Churches, including one from the Mar Thoma (St Thomas) Church in India.
Pastor Hani sang an Assyrian song he composed about Jesus in Gethsemane. After visiting ministers laid their hands on the stacks of Bibles at the front and prayed, each person received a Bible as a gift. As the ceremony ended, the buzz of Assyrian voices softly reading the Scriptures filled the room like a sweet offering of prayer and hope.
At the dedication one of the officiating pastors said, ‘The Holy Scriptures are God’s word of hope and comfort to Assyrians today, here and around the world.’
In July 2014 Muslim extremists calling themselves Islamic State marked homes and businesses owned by Christians with the Arabic letter ‘N’ (nun). This is the first letter of the Arabic word ‘Nazarene’ and signifies ‘Christian’. This included the doors of Assyrian Christians. Demsin explains that it was an ultimatum: either leave the city of Mosul, pay a tax for being Christian, or convert. If one of these was not chosen, they would be killed. Tragically, many have been killed. The Arabic ‘N’ was a mark of death. However, Christians and others around the world on social media have shared it as a symbol of solidarity with the Assyrians and other Christians in Iraq and Syria.
Demsin continues: ‘I now view the letter ‘N’ with bittersweet feelings. I am sad to see my people suffer, but I am proud to be an Assyrian Christian.’