Authentic Reformation and Revival in Northern Iraq

By Douglas Layton
June 01, 2001

Reformation and revival have not only been redefined or confined to the status of historical footnote, but in many cases relegated to the realm of the impossible. This is especially true when referring to what are commonly known as “unreached nations” or “closed countries” such as we find in the Islamic world. It does not even cross the mind of most pastors that a Muslim country might become “Christian” and radically transformed. They either do not believe it is their job to undertake this task in Muslim nations, or they simply do not believe it possible. They reason that to see true revival and reformation is difficult enough in a country like America which has strong democratic institutions, but is far more difficult where the entire society is built around an anti-Christ religion such as Islam. Couple this with the fact that Muslims tend to be rather violent when one tries to change their society, and you have an impossible situation — or so we are told.

There are some things we must remember: the thought of whole nations in the Islamic world embracing Christ and making His laws and commands pre-eminent does “cross God’s mind.” God is not merely interested in the redemption of individuals, but in the transformation of each element of the society in which godly individuals reside. He not only desires this for America but for every nation on earth. “Disciple the nations” is the great commission. Since this is the command of God to the church, it must, therefore, be possible. We forget that many Islamic nations were once Christian. Many experienced reformation and revival long before there was a Great Awakening in America or a German or Swiss Reformation. Luther and Calvin had yet to be born when whole nations we now call Turkey, Syria, and Egypt were important centers of a vital Christian faith. Can it be so again?

After nearly thirty years of mission experience in the Muslim world, I am totally convinced we can see the spiritual awakening of whole Islamic societies and that we must be “missionary” reformers in the true sense of the word. When the mission I direct starts working in a country, we are not merely interested in winning some souls to Christ, planting a church, or doing some social work. While these are all noble and needed, we believe a far higher goal should motivate every missionary endeavor — the complete reformation of society. Such was our goal when we began work in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) at the end of the Gulf War. In 1992 there was no living church in the region. There were virtually no true believers; and because Saddam Hussein controlled Northern Iraq, there was no missionary activity.

I have discovered a very important truth about God — He is very smart. God has a strategy which, if followed by God’s people, will result in the destruction of Satan’s grip on the Muslims of the world. Northern Iraq is a perfect example of God’s strategy. In 2001, ten years after the end of Desert Storm, very little has changed in the Middle East. Saddam remains in power. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait continue to be vulnerable. Only one thing has changed — the Kurds of Northern Iraq are in a protected zone in the northern region of their country, and are now free from the dictatorship of Saddam. An entire nation of people — known to the world as the “People without a Friend” — became wards of America at the conclusion of the Gulf War. They had no schools. The art community was devastated. Business was annihilated. Food was gone. There was no medicine. Everything was in ruin.

My brother, a colonel in the army, became deputy commander of Operation Provide Comfort, the project aimed at saving the Kurds of Northern Iraq. He invited me to see the undertaking up close. So, wondering what God was up to, I went. I have worked for many years in the Muslim world and never seen an opening like this one, a whole nation in the heart of the Middle East ripe for the gospel.

The Kurds had been told by Saddam Hussein that Allah (the Islamic name for God) had ordered him in a dream to utterly destroy them. He announced on radio and TV that Allah had given him an “anfal,” a Koranic term meaning permission to destroy, against the four million Kurds of his country. Saddam Hussein then became the first person in history to use chemical weapons against his own people. He ordered his army to “kill every man, woman, child, beast, plant, and living thing” in the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq. The rest of the Muslim world stood by while he attempted to fulfill this mandate from Allah. But America, at least thought of as a Christian nation, stepped in and offered protection, and soon many church-affiliated organizations arrived to serve in practical, meaningful ways. As a result, the Kurds became the Muslim world’s most receptive group to Christianity overnight. Many Kurds now hate Islam and are searching for truth.

After realizing the vital role the Kurds might play in God’s scheme of things, I wrote The Kurds in the Bible, which tells their true Biblical history (they are descendants of the ancient Medes) and recounts some of their past encounters with God. It instantly became one of the most popular books in the Kurdish world. There are now 85,000 copies in print and requests for hundreds of thousands more.

We then sought a place of service that would make us indispensable to the nation. The Kurds suffered terrible genocide at the hands of Saddam Hussein. They were afraid America would abandon them and leave them to die. I began to speak on their behalf in churches across America, asking everyone not only to pray but also to call or write their congressmen to seek protection for the Kurds. I even testified on their behalf before the U.S. Senate. After several years I became close friends with many Kurdish leaders.

I was once asked by the Kurds’ president what I wanted in exchange for my help. I told him all I wanted was the right for his people to worship and serve God in the manner their consciences dictated. He told me that was fair enough and promised religious freedom. There is now no Muslim region with more religious freedom than Northern Iraq.

As things stand, the number of believers in Kurdistan has grown from zero in 1991 to hundreds in 2001. There are Christian fellowships in every major city, five Christian bookstores, and four Christian printing presses. The “Jesus Film” has been shown on national TV and the book Kurds in the Bible was made into a three-week prime-time television special. We broadcast nationwide Christian radio programs eight hours a day, and the government has given us large tracts of land for churches and Christian ministry centers.

Most exciting is the new classical Christian school system we are establishing in all the major cities of the nation. This is being accomplished in collaboration with Dr. George Grant and the Franklin Classical School in Tennessee. Because their education system was destroyed in the war, Kurdish leaders were thrilled when we offered to set up this American school system, even though it is run by the church and teaches the Bible. In fact, all the leaders asked us to enroll their children; hence, we are now educating the future leaders of the nation. Following is a letter from one of our missionaries when the first school was opened:

The most difficult part of starting this school had to have been the selection process! We definitely learned our lesson to not give out so many forms. The response to the school was overwhelming. I literally had people chasing me down to get a form for their son or daughter. The level of education and social status of the parents who applied for their children was really remarkable. We had just about every doctor, many university directors, engineers, and cabinet ministers, as well as the President’s assistants. We made the best possible judgment for our first students and posted it on the Ministry of Educations announcement board. On the day after the announcement, Abram (one of our pastors) was at the Medical University and found himself surrounded by a group of doctors and the directors of the university. They were asking him questions and talking about their children. One doctor whose son had been accepted said “my son was up all night praying in the name of the holy Quran (Muslim scriptures) that he would be accepted.” Abram said “Well tell him to get ready, tomorrow he will be going to school and studying the Bible!” ...all the doctors burst out laughing.

We believe we will one day control the entire education system of the nation. From there we will move on, with God’s guidance, to other spheres of society until all reflect His glory. Yes, we can see true revival and reformation in the nations if we want to and are willing to pay the price. Christians of vision before us have witnessed it, and there is no reason why we cannot see it again today. God is opening doors. We have access through the Holy Spirit to the mind of Christ and, with God’s strategies, nothing is impossible. We want America to be a righteous. God-fearing nation again, but the Lord wants all nations to be righteous and God-fearing — including those in the Muslim world.

Topics: Dominion, World History

Douglas Layton

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