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Hope for the Middle East comes to the National Assembly for Wales

06 July 2017

Welsh Assembly Members and faith leaders were encouraged to act on behalf of Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq yesterday (5 July), as Open Doors and the Evangelical Alliance Wales presented the Hope for the Middle East campaign in the National Assembly for Wales.

The event was hosted by Darren Millar AM, and 13 Assembly members attended, with 4 others sending representatives - over a quarter of all Assembly Members were represented! There were Assembly Members from every party in attendance, including Rebecca Evans AM, Minister for Social Services and Public Health.

There were also representatives from the Yazidi, Muslim and Jewish faiths, as well as church leaders in attendance, and members of the Welsh Iraqi community.

A huge thank you to everyone who invited their Assembly Members and prayed for the event - we couldn't have done it without you!

Welsh Assembly Members

Showing that the people of Wales care

Darren Millar AM, who is Chair of the Cross Party Group on Faith in the National Assembly, opened the event, saying, "Hope for the Middle East is a seven-year, global campaign, and it's got this very important goal of mobilising Christians, politicians, individuals, other organisations around the world to do just that, to bring some hope to the Middle East. With the current turmoil that we've seen in parts of that region, I don't think it's ever been more important...

"In conjunction with the events like this that have been held in Westminster and Stormont, I believe that we can do something here in Wales, in the National Assembly, to show that we care."

Darren is pictured below with Eddie Lyle, President of Open Doors UK & Ireland.

Eddie Lyle

'It's part of who we are'

Jim Steward from the Evangelical Alliance Wales then spoke about the campaign in the Welsh context. He referred to the Assembly's statements of opinion in 2010 on safe havens for Christians in Iraq, supporting the protection of persecuted Christians, and on Genocide Remembrance Day, and a statement of opinion from 2016 supporting the protection of Yazidi people. He said, "These are, of course, not legally binding, but they represent and reflect passions and interests that are on Assembly Members' hearts."

He then spoke about civil society initiatives in Wales concerned with religious persecution, describing them as 'movements that bring together not just people from the particular community that was effected, but others as well'. He said, "It's part of who we are in Wales that we respond to issues that are really deep in the hearts of people."

Finally he spoke about the church in Wales, saying, "This is a movement and a campaign that will involve others, but I think, as Christians, we need to take it seriously ourselves and see what we can do."

The scale of suffering

Eddie Lyle, President of Open Doors UK & Ireland, then spoke of the reality of daily life for Christians in the Middle East today. He said, "As I look back now over two decades of ministry with the persecuted church, I can honestly say I've not witnessed anything like the scale of suffering being generated in the current crisis that is devastating the Middle East at this time."

He showed drawings by children in the Middle East of their houses being bombed and people being injured, including the one below, saying, "No ten-year-old should have to portray their existence like this." He spoke of a Pastor from Aleppo, saying, "His parish duties take him every day through sniper alleys, but he stays there because he believes he is a link between the past, the present and the future."

Syria

He then spoke of Pastor and Edward and his wife Rana, pictured below. They are Open Doors local partners in Damascus, and they believe they are called to stay in Syria as ambassadors of Christ. Eddie quoted Pastor Edward, who has said, "We will spread the values of heaven and the values of Christ. So instead of revenge, forgiveness; instead of hatred, love; instead of killing, giving life."

Syria

'We have a job to do'

Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK & Ireland, then spoke about aims of the Hope for the Middle East campaign, 'envisioning a future where all the varied, rich and diverse communities in Syria and Iraq, and throughout the Middle East, can live together, contributing to a stable, peaceful and prosperous region'. She spoke of the practical recommendations that could help make this future possible, including the creation of a national accountability mechanism in Syria and Iraq, a policy to ensure that education systems in both countries promote tolerance and respect, and the creation of a grassroots peace programme.

Zoe also spoke about the calls of the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which were drafted after months of consultation with church leaders and Christians from Syria and Iraq. The petition asks for equal citizenship, dignified living conditions, and a role in bringing reconciliation to their societies for Christians and other minorities.

She explained, "The problem with being numerically smaller than others is that you don't have such a loud voice. Also, by not being one of the key actors in the conflict, you risk becoming collateral damage. So we have a job to do to make their case, to make sure they're not forgotten and that their voices are heard." Zoe encouraged those present to do this by signing the petition, and using their areas of influence to speak out for Christians and minorities in Syria and Iraq.

You can hear everything that was said at the event in the video below:

BRING HOPE TO THE MIDDLE EAST

The Hope for the Middle East campaign is a global, seven-year campaign mobilising people around the world to speak out to secure the future of Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which will be presented to the UN in December 2017.

As well as signing the petition, here are three other ways you can act to bring hope to the Middle East:

  • Share the petition with others. Download and print the petition sheet and ask others to sign it, or share the petition through your social media channels.
  • Give to support persecuted Christians in Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East. £25 could go towards rebuilding homes or starting small businesses in Iraq and Syria.
  • Pray. Please pray that those who were present at the Hope for the Middle East event in the National Assembly for Wales would be spurred to act. Please also continue to pray for peace, protection and provision for our church family in Syria and Iraq.