As I think back to the events that have transpired during 2016 in the lives of Pastor R and the House of Blessing missionaries, I am struck by what an eventful year this has been. Many true life stories have been chronicled and then retold. These accounts describe how God honored the trust, faith, and obedience of His loyal servants as they stayed embedded with some of the neediest people in the world. These stories spoke of supernatural interventions in ways that not everyone gets to see. There were also the difficulties experienced under some of the worst living conditions imaginable.
The 2011 anti-regime uprising in Syria which quickly morphed into a brutal civil war has by now claimed the lives of well over half a million souls. Syria, of course, was only one of the mideast nations affected by the so-called Arab Spring. The ensuing chaos has claimed hundreds of thousands more deaths beyond those in Syria. Then there are all those that have been injured. Others have suffered from starvation, poisoning from chemical weapons, exposure to the elements, and so much more. House of Blessing has hundreds of missionaries scattered mostly on the front lines in both Syria and Iraq. Since my own personal involvement with House of Blessing early in 2012, well over 1,000 of HOB’s trained missionaries have been martyred. This does not count the scores of new believers that have been lost as well. More missionaries are continually being raised up to take over for those who have fallen.
The greatest events though, regardless of how outstanding the miracles have been, is the transformation experienced by those who have come to recognize that Jesus Christ is the one and only real Messiah and have asked Him to become their Lord and Master. This is really what the mission of the HOB missionaries is all about.
The story of the ultimate sacrifice provided by God to remedy fallen humanity is one like none other. Man’s religions offer all kinds of ways of “earning” divine favor. Jesus was the only One able to come and say, “I am the way!” The Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament gives us intricate and crucial information about the sacrifice made, and why it was the only sacrifice sufficient to bridge the gulf between God and man. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah hundreds of years before He arrived in the little town of Bethlehem.
In Jewish history, one of the regular sacrifices was the “guilt offering.” God had prescribed this offering as the means for the guilty person’s guilt to be removed from God’s sight. But, the guilt offering could only take away the guilt of the one offering it by first becoming the guilt. In Isaiah 53, Isaiah’s prophecy describes the Messiah as wounded, pierced, and crushed for our sins. But in Hebrew the meaning becomes cleaerr. Not only was the Messiah to take the guilt of the world upon Himself, but He would actually become the guilt itself! The Hebrew word used to express what Messiah took upon Himself is the same word used for the sacrifices offered up by the priests to redeem the guilty. The sacrificial animal became the very embodiment of the guilt. In the Isaiah passage, the word was used, not to describe a sacrificial animal, but a human life–Messiah. Messiah became the guilt. Jesus not only died to take away our guilt, but He became the guilt itself. As we picture Him on the cross, we’re seeing not only the sacrifice, but also the guilt itself. We are seeing our guilt nailed to the cross. And, since Messiah becomes the guilt itself, when He died, so too did all our guilt, all our shame, and all our regrets. They are gone forever…It is finished!
This is the message of the cross. The message of the resurrection is that there is eternal life which has been purchased for every human being that has ever lived, or ever will live, if they will just recognize Who Jesus really is and submit to His Lordship. The Apostle Paul put it like this:
…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” Romans 10:9-13
I have had the privilege numerous times over the past five years of speaking to people from the Mideast that have found Messiah Jesus as their LORD and Savior–many of them former Muslim sheikhs, and I can hear the great joy they have because of their assurance of forgiveness and an eternity in the service of the One who paid that awful price for them. That joy is infectious! No more need for sacrificing an animal yearly in the hopes of having their sins covered over. They have recognized that Jesus became the guilt for them. It is not an earned forgiveness, but forgiveness freely given to them because they have recognized Who Jesus is, and that He did not stay dead but was resurrected after three days in the tomb. This is what sets Christianity apart from every other belief system on this earth. It is also because of the truth of this story that Christians world-over are, or should be, keeping their eyes looking upward in this day and hour. This same Jesus who rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven before the eyes of the disciples is imminently due to return to take His own into His presence! What a day that will be!
In the meantime though, the situation in the Middle East continues to be difficult. Even though a cease-fire has been declared in Syria and the Russian aircraft carrier, along with its support ships, have been recalled back to mother Russia as part of a planned draw-down of Russia’s military power in Syria, not all parties have stopped firing. Many of the terrorist organizations represented in Syria are not included in the cease-fire and so they are continuing to kill at will.
The winter is also proving to be brutal. The wind, rain, and snow continue to be the cause for many dying of exposure to the elements. The HOB missionaries, who have now had several seasons of practice in re-anchoring and rebuilding tents, continue helping as many as they possibly can. Unfortunately, even though helping as many as possible, many still have no shelter at all. The need is greater than what the missionaries can possibly meet. So, they do the best they can.
In Syria, the number of those that have died of the cold in the last week is several dozen. Yet, at the same time, in spite of the fact that people are running in all directions, about 300 souls were reached with the Gospel. Sister Fatwa has ministered healing to 24 and Sister Mufidah, another 16. These were all people that were critically injured. Sister Sarah was able to minister to another 90 that have experienced the tragedy of losing little children or close loved ones. As she ministered to them, the Lord touched them and they were released of the grief that had them bound. Sister Hafezah was able to serve communion to over 600 of the believers. These folks sang, prayed, worshipped, and are continuing to trust the Lord to help them in overcoming whatever comes in their direction. There is much to learn from these folks!
One of the horrors being perpetrated upon the people by the terrorists is in destroying the water sources. As a result, the people try to get water from wherever any is found, and much of it is contaminated. This is causing disease and often death.
In Fallujah, where there are still many jihadist groups, people continue to lose their lives as well…often just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These terrorist groups all have their own brand of Islam that they follow. Anyone that believes differently is considered an infidel and so is fair game for murder. Another 35 of the new believers lost their lives this last week. But, at the same time, miraculously, another 170 were reached with the Gospel! Sister Fatima also was able to serve communion to over 500 of the believers. Just like in Syria, these believers take communion–not as a ritual but as a very serious remembrance of what the story of the cross is really all about, and why the bread (Body) and the juice (Blood) have such significance and importance to the believer.
Anyone that pays attention to world news is aware that the battle for Mosul has not gone as planned. There is a real concern that the grip of ISIS over this city cannot be totally broken. The tactics of the terrorists are very difficult to deal with, especially as they continue using innocent children as human shields. Brother Akram has his hands full as he continues to minister, along with all those helping him. In Mosul, another 120 died this last week, many of these due to not having any shelter whatsoever. HOB missionaries however did manage to help reset at least 400 of the tents as they were blown down or collapsed from the weight of the snow and ice.
Some have asked about the status of the 56 widows that had been in treatment and retraining. I believe I reported already that they had to be reintegrated with the rest of the body of believers due to a lack of funds to run the recovery home. Also, the three women that had disappeared from the ranks of the 56 have not yet been found. Prayer continues to be needed on their account, as well as the other 53 who are still facing difficult struggles with the nightmares resulting from their two years of ISIS captivity.
As of January 6, Pastor R was still in the hospital, but recuperating well. The poison that had been in his system has been cleared out. His infected wounds are healing nicely and he should be out of the hospital very soon.
That is the basic summary of events for this past week. Please keep these people in prayer. Their needs continue and the situation does not get better. Yet, hundreds are reached weekly with the Good News of the Gospel. If the Lord has laid a burden on your heart to pray for these folks, please do it diligently. If the Lord has asked you to help support them, please do this as well. They have a great need for blankets, tents, winter clothing, wheat, and of course, always Bibles. Every donation is in the hands of the missionaries within a couple days of arriving here, either to the PayPal account or in the mail. Thank You all.
In His Service,
House Of Blessing; 3206 SW 45th Street; Redmond, Oregon USA 97756