Editor’s note: This is an abridged excerpt of the first chapter Johnnie Moore’s book “Defying ISIS: Preserving Christianity In The Place Of Its Birth And In Your Own Backyard.” The ebook edition is available now and the paperback releases on April 21. For more free exclusive content, go to www.defyingisis.com and type in the promo code FEDERALIST.
WASHINGTON, DC – It was midnight in Damascus, 2 p.m. in my hometown in California, when I received an e-mail with only two words in its subject line: “Awaiting death.”
There once were many pastors like him in Syria. That country’s Christian communities had thrived since the Apostle Paul himself preached in Damascus after his conversion on the road to that ancient city. In fact, it was in Syria that the word “Christian” was first used at all.
Within the Middle East, Syria was once as famous for its two million Christians as it was for anything else. They were pillars of society, living and thriving as neighbors to Muslims whom they served without prejudice. Their mysterious hillside monasteries had maintained the same intrigue they had when they were first constructed, many more than a thousand years ago.
Syria was so Christian, in fact, that a certain group of Syrian Christians had preserved Aramaic—the very dialect Jesus had spoken. They spoke it in their communities and people traveled from the world over to their villages just for the opportunity to hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed exactly as it had been heard from Jesus’ lips to his apostles’ ears, two thousand years ago.
Until our very modern times, Syria, along with Iraq and Egypt, were the seats of thriving Christian communities that had been a light to the world before Western Christianity was a glimmer in anyone’s eye. As I wrote in an op-ed in February of 2014: “Christianity began in the East, not the West … the apostle Paul—who was on the road to Damascus when he encountered Christ—would have told the story of his conversion while heading to ‘Syria.’ … and to this day there are as many Christian holy sites in that nation as anywhere else in the world.”