The Assyrian Empire inhabited the Fertile Crescent for seven hundred years and was the dominant power in the Middle East from the ninth to the seventh centuries B.C. The prophet Jonah ministered to the northern tribes of Israel (II Kings 14:25) during the midpoint of Assyria’s Mesopotamian domination. Around 755 B.C. Jonah traveled to Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, to proclaim judgment against it for its wickedness and violence (Jonah 3:8). Because everyone from the king to the common man repented, God withheld his judgment. It was indeed a great time of turning to the Lord.
Nearly thirty years later, Shalmanezer, king of Assyria, began a three-year siege against Samaria, the northern capital of Israel (II King 17:1-6). During the siege, Shalmanezer died. Sargon II eventually led Israel into captivity in Assyria (II Kings 17:6, 18, 23) and repopulated the empty cities of Israel with residents from cities outside Ninevah (II Kings 17:24). Because the new Assyrian residents in Samaria found themselves terrorized by lions, they went to Sargon II for help. He sent an Israeli priest back to Samaria to teach the Assyrians in Israel the fear the Lord (II Kings 17:25-28). In the midst of judgment, God’s love shone through.
Lessons of Samaria and the Assyrians
Throughout history God has used the forced migrations and disruptive movements of peoples for his purposes. We must look at this concept from two viewpoints. In regard to the Assyrians, we see that God loves all peoples and wants all peoples to hear of his love. The Assyrians in Ninevah had heard the message from Yahweh, but those living in outlying cities had not yet heard. God used Sargon II to move the Assyrians to a place where they could learn about the nature and character of God.
Because of their disobedience and unbelief (II Kings 17:7-18), God removed the Jews in Samaria from their homes and sent them into captivity. They experienced great suffering and death; however, God made good come from evil by bringing a priest of Israel back from exile to teach the Assyrians the ways of the Lord. These events occurred over 2,700 years ago. However, God works in similar ways today.
Modern Day Diaspora Movements and Divine Intervention
Diaspora refers to any dispersed segment of a people group living apart from the main body of their people. That God uses such dispersements for his glory is evident in every period of history. We will look at two examples: Afghanistan and Algeria.
First, God used the 1979 Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan to further the spread of the gospel. During the early 1980s, the decision was made to send as many “expendable” evangelical army soldiers as possible from the USSR into the most volatile areas of warfare. It was viewed that if more soldiers were going to die, at least they would be persecuted evangelicals. That decision generated increased prayer support for Afghanistan and helped prepare the way for worldwide prayer support for Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Beginning in 1979, over five million Afghan refugees fled their country, possibly the largest forced migration in history at the time. Many landed in refugee camps in northern Pakistan. It was here the refugees first heard the gospel message. Many would have never heard this message had they remained in Afghanistan.
Second, Algeria has suffered through a decade-long civil war that has claimed the lives of 200,000 people. The Algerian military government negated the results of an election that had appeared to swing in favor of fundamentalist Muslims. As a result, Algerian terrorists began brutally murdering fellow citizens in a calculated effort to embarrass, destabilize and overthrow that government. Islamic terrorists murdered up to 2,000 innocent Muslims in a single night. This sometimes happened in towns less than thirty miles from Algiers. Such acts have led millions of Algerians to flee North Africa, resettling in countries like Great Britain, Spain and France. By French government estimates, there are between six and twelve million Muslims in France, the majority being from Algeria. Evangelicals in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Grenoble and elsewhere are planting churches and training leaders among the Algerian diaspora. All this would have been extremely difficult to do within Algeria itself.
The 7 July 2005 Bombings in London
On the morning of 7 July in downtown London, more than fifty people were killed by Muslim terrorists in three bombings in the city’s subway system. A fourth bombing also occurred on a bus in Travistock Square. The men were later identified as having grown up in England. They were from families known as “asylum seekers,” people from outside the United Kingdom who sought asylum as political and religious refugees. All asylum seekers are financially supported by the UK government and most have never worked a day in their lives.
London newspapers and television stations were aflame with controversy for months after the bombings. Muslim clerics continued to preach hate and mayhem, urging followers to murder British subjects in their Islamic war against the West. In the first round of raids ordered by Charles Clarke, UK’s Home Secretary, ten asylum seekers were detained. Eight of the ten men were Algerians. Three Muslims gloated that their lawyers would easily defeat the Home Secretary’s attempts to throw Muslim extremists out of the UK. One of these asylum seekers lives with his wife and four children in 1.1 million dollar home. Another brags that he has been fully supported by the UK government for nineteen years. Those in Britain are divided in how to proceed. Muslim terrorists appear to be masterfully using the system to wage jihad against the very system that financially supports and protects them.
The Iranian Diaspora in the United Kingdom
Iranians have been flooding into Great Britain for years, seeking financial and political asylum. Here is the story of one such Iranian. Mehrdad (not his real name) came to Christ in the 1970s. He soon became pastor of the largest Muslim-convert church in Iran. Years later the Islamic revolution under the Ayatollah Khomaini was underway and Mehrdad was scheduled to surrender to prison authorities on charges of subversive actions. On the morning he was to surrender, he learned that the Ayatollah Khomaini had died in the night throwing the country into chaos. Christians throughout Iran saw this as God’s intervention. At the encouragement of his congregation, Mehrdad fled Iran and landed in the UK, where he began to pastor diaspora Iranians.
The British government had recently begun assigning thousands of Iranian asylum seekers to Glagow, Scotland. Three years ago, a group of these individuals went before a Scottish magistrate in an effort to convince him they had come to the UK as religious refugees and needed protection as persecuted “Christians.” Uncertain of the validity of their claims, the judge tested them on basic Christian doctrine; details about the apostles; and the story of Jesus. All failed and the judge denied their request for asylum. Having heard of Mehrdad and his ministry, these Iranians asked for a “crash course” in Christianity. Mehrdad agreed to help and organized an “Alpha” weekend at a remote conference center. By the end of the weekend, nearly fifty Iranians gave their lives to Jesus Christ. None had ever heard the gospel message.
Mehrdad became their pastor and began discipling each of them. The gospel has spread to their families and friends and there is now a church with over 200 baptized Iranian believers. Each month Mehrdad goes before a magistrate (one of three different judges) as a character witness. He validates the mens’ petitions and vouches for the transformation that has occurred in each life. Not one asylum seeker has been turned down in three years. All are now financially supported by the British government and very few are allowed to work. Indirectly, the British government is supporting several hundred Iranian church planters throughout the UK. Churches have been planted in Newcastle and London, and plans to plant Iranian churches in every major city in the UK are underway.
Perhaps the 7 July bombings and the controversy over Muslim asylum seekers in the UK was seen as a victory for Islamic jihad. In reality, God has intervened in the affairs of men to create opportunities where people who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel may hear. And they are hearing in the diaspora.