So marveled Egyptian TV host Amr Adeeb, in the aftermath of the Palm Sunday bombings of Christians by ISIS. The forgiveness expressed by a widow of one of the victims had taken his breath away:

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.
“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”
Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

It has often been said of the ancient church that the blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church. The witness of the Coptic community, which has seen numerous attacks in the past few years, has made an impact, both on the Coptic church itself, and on the wider community.

Christianity Today quoted Christian psychiatrist and former member of parliament Ehab el-Kharrat as saying, “The Coptic community is definitely in defiance. The services of Holy Week have doubled in attendance, and the churches are flowing out into the streets.”

With regard to their muslim neighbors:
“The families of the martyrs are promoting a worldview that is 180 degrees contrary to that of the terrorists,” he said. “The great majority of Egyptians now carry deep respect for the Copts, who are viewed as patriotic people of faith.”

Nearly 100,000 people gave their lives as a witness to the faith. The majority of the deaths (60,000) were due to tribal violence in Africa. Most of the rest can be attributed to the activities of Islamic terror groups like ISIS.

A new study has found that Christians are the most persecuted people on earth today. A research conducted by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity shows that every six minutes a Christian loses their life because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Read more at World Religion News: “A Christian Was Killed for Their Faith Every Six Minutes”.

With ISIS forces retreating, a handful of Christians were able to worship once again in the ruins of a church near Mosul.

Surrounded by charred walls and in front of a ruined altar, dozens of Iraqi Christians celebrated mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh on Sunday for the first time since it was recaptured from Islamic State.

Church bells rang out in the town on the southeastern approaches to Mosul where Iraqi troops, backed by U.S.-led air and ground forces, have been driving back the Sunni Muslim jihadists ahead of a battle for the city itself.

Read more at Reuters.

We pray for God’s blessings upon his people in Iraq.

I am startled to realize that it has been over a month since I last posted anything on this blog. I have had good intentions of commenting on some major issues that have arisen lately. However, I have found that my time has become consumed by other work, and the preparation for (and enjoyment of) a family vacation. Here are a couple of things.

1. The Olympics: Had I been more on task last month, I would have posted something about the faith statements of Olympians. Many of the greatest athletes in the world are also giants of spirit. They are Olympians of faith. We certainly appreciate them. For all people, whether or not you posses athletic prowess, there’s nothing better than to aspire to be an Olympian of faith. That is something attainable by the smallest, the slowest, the oldest, and the sickest among us.

2. Kayla Mueller: The recent publicity about Kayla Mueller, the aid worker who was kidnapped by ISIS, is another story worth telling. At the end of her life, she found an inner strength through her faith in God that allowed her to withstand unimaginable tortures. Her strength earned the respect of her fellow prisoners as well as her captors. Her faith prior to capture is a topic of some mystery. She once said something to the effect that some people find God in a church, but she found God in adversity, and her own life certainly demonstrates this. Our admiration is added to that of others, as she takes her eternal place among the great martyrs and heroes of the Christian faith.

If I get more time soon I may revisit these stories. For now I commend them to you for further research and reflection.

Earlier this week, two assailants loyal to ISIS entered a church in St. Etienne, near Rouen in France. They forced the 86 year old priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, to kneel and then slit his throat. The attackers were later shot by police.

Fr. Hamel was remembered as a kind and quiet man, who loved his work and chose not to retire when he could have done so. “He was loved by all. He was a little like a grandfather”, stated one mourner.

Further information available at New York Times”.

So says a colleague today while discussing the latest atrocity in Istanbul. I have gathered today for further reflection two unrelated ISIS stories–even as they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, they manage to stay in the news.

First off, our prayers are offered for the victims and loved ones who were affected by the Istanbul airport bombings. The death toll has apparently reached 42 with hundreds injured. You can read the latest at BBC.

Also in the news, an escaped ISIS sex slave testified before Congress about her plight and that of many others. CNN reports that Nadia Murad, a member of the Yaziri ethnic minority in Iraq, appeared before congressmen to describe what is going on:

Speaking about the Middle East’s Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities, she warned that “if they are not protected they will be wiped out.”

Yazidis are ethnically Kurdish members of an ancient religion who live mostly in Iraq.

Murad detailed how she and thousands of Yazidi women and girls were enslaved and raped by their ISIS captors. She recounted how six of her brothers and her mother were executed by ISIS in a single day.

…”I was freed, but I do not (have) the feeling of the freedom because those who have committed these crimes have not been held accountable,” she said.

A UN report released last week estimated that ISIS holds about 3,500 slaves and that the terror group continues to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery. The report said ISIS’ actions “may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

This Reuters artice referenced the UN report in January 2016.

On the heels of the attack by terrorists upon the airport in Brussels, it seems a good opportunity to revisit the question, “what is ISIS?” I recall a very good article by Graeme Wood in the Atlantic which lays out a lot of information on ISIS. One of the points that struck me was this one:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

This echoes the assessment of former Muslim Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, who is a speaker with Ravi Zacharias Ministry, and wrote a recent essay for USA Today:

This is not at all to say that most Muslims are violent. The vast majority of Muslims do not live their lives based on chapter 9 of the Quran or on the books of jihad in the hadith. My point is not to question the faith of such Muslims nor to imply that radical Muslims are the true Muslims. Rather, I simply want to make clear that while ISIL may lure youth through a variety of methods, it radicalizes them primarily by urging them to follow the literal teachings of the Quran and the hadith, interpreted consistently and in light of the violent trajectory of early Islam. As long as the Islamic world focuses on its foundational texts, we will continue to see violent jihadi movements.

In order to effectively confront radicalization, then, our tools must be similarly ideological, even theological. This is why I suggest that sharing alternative worldviews with Muslims is one of the best methods to address radicalization. Indeed, this is what happened to me. As I faced the reality of the violent traditions of Islam, I had a Christian friend who suggested that Islam did not have to be my only choice and that there were excellent reasons to accept the gospel.

This is disturbing:

According to a report from The Daily Beast, more than 50 intelligence analysts at Centcom have formally complained that reports on the Islamic State and the Nusra Front — Al Qaeda’s Syria branch — have been repeatedly altered by senior intelligence officials to fit with the Obama administration’s insistence that the US is winning the war against the two militant groups.

Read more: businessinsider.com

Also, the New York Times has an article:

WASHINGTON — A group of intelligence analysts have provided investigators with documents they say show that senior military officers manipulated the conclusions of reports on the war against the Islamic State, according to several government officials, as lawmakers from both parties voiced growing anger that they may have received a distorted picture about the military campaign’s progress.


This occurred a few weeks ago, in late August:

Islamic State said it bulldozed a fifth-century Assyrian Christian monastery in the southeastern Syrian town of Qaryatain as the jihadist group pressed on with efforts to wipe out traces of what it considers un-Islamic archaeological and cultural treasures.”

Islamic State’s media office distributed photographs on social media sites of what it said was the destruction on Thursday of the Mar Elian monastery. A headline on the photographs reads, “Mar Elian monastery, worshiped without God.”

A number of Christians were captured. Their fate is unknown.

Read more: Wall Street Journal

The photo is from Catholic Herald