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2 tragic anniversaries mark Week of Prayer for Kurds

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Two tragic anniversaries will fall on the week of March 15-21, marking events that men intended for evil — but that God is using for good.

One year ago on March 15, anonymous gunmen attacked five Southern Baptist humanitarian workers near Mosul in northern Iraq. Larry and Jean Elliott, David McDonnall and Karen Watson died. Carrie McDonnall continues to recover from multiple wounds.

Seventeen years ago, on March 16, 1988, more than 5,000 men, women and children were killed in a chemical attack by Saddam Hussein’s regime on Halabja, also in northern Iraq. It became known as “Black Friday” — the most infamous of many attacks that destroyed or damaged thousands of villages in the region and killed more than 100,000 people.

The connection: Both incidents involved the Kurds, the world’s largest people group without their own homeland. Overwhelmingly Muslim, about 30 million Kurds live in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Armenia and other nations in the region.

The Southern Baptist workers who died last year were trying to help Kurds in Iraq rebuild their lives, gain access to clean water — and discover that God deeply loves them.

This March 15-21, Southern Baptists can honor the service of their slain workers — and help carry it forward — by participating in a Week of Prayer for the Kurds. Free resources that will help churches or small groups effectively pray for the Kurds can be downloaded at http://imb.org/kurds, including: a seven-day prayer guide; a video featuring International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin; a video tribute to the fallen Southern Baptist workers featuring a message from Carrie McDonnall; and a PowerPoint “virtual prayerwalk.”

“This is an important season of the year as we focus on North American missions and our responsibility to reach our own nation for the Lord,” Rankin said. “I encourage you to give generously to the Annie Armstrong Offering that supports the work of our North American Mission Board. But would you pause and through this week join us in also praying for the Kurds? As they observe a day of infamy and tragedy in their own history, and as we remember those of our own mission family who gave their lives, let us pray that the Kurds might join us in God’s eternal Kingdom and through faith in Jesus Christ become a part of His family.”

The Kurdish people are the fourth-largest ethnic group in Central Asia and the Middle East. Only the Arabs, the Persians and the Turks outnumber them. Yet they have lived a life of conflict and turmoil across the ages. Not having a country of their own, they have struggled for a sense of identity and belonging. They have been dominated by the giants of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria — and subjected to many abuses. “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains,” a famous Kurdish proverb asserts.

But the Kurds do have a friend: The Lord of the mountains, the God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to free all peoples from their spiritual chains: “… not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

The majority of the Kurds have little access to the Gospel. High illiteracy rates and different Kurdish dialects create additional obstacles. But Christian workers are creating audio and visual materials to communicate the Good News to them. As a new wind of spiritual openness sweeps through the region, small but growing numbers of Kurds are discovering the giver of true freedom — Jesus Christ – and sharing Him with others.

One young survivor of Saddam’s 1988 chemical attack on the Kurds of Halabja has become a follower of Jesus. The Southern Baptist workers who were killed last year befriended him. In an interview soon after their deaths, he expressed the special relationship he had with them. Tearfully, he told how the day before their deaths, Larry Elliott hugged him and said, “You are my son,” while David McDonnall had been “like a brother” to him.

“As you pray, thank God for those who gave their lives in the hope that these people would one day know our Lord Jesus Christ,” Rankin said. “Pray especially for the Kurdish people — neglected, oppressed and lost. Christ died for them as He did for all the peoples of the world, and He desires that they too have an opportunity to know Him.”
To learn more about the Kurds, visit http://thekurds.net

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