Men and Women of Whom the World is Not Worthy
A review of "They Say We are Infidels"
I first read They Say We Are Infidels in 2016, and it has become a book I reference time and again. Author Mindy Belz’s fascinating and informative account opened my eyes to the historical church and the plight of current believers in the Middle and Near East.
Belz, previously a senior editor at WORLD magazine, combines her world-class journalistic skills with rich storytelling in this book. It expanded the way I understand the international locations and events that have been a part of the national conversation all of my adult life. With the recent advance of ISIS in Afghanistan and withdrawal of U.S. troops, we again see these protracted conflicts rise to the forefront, and hers is the voice I want to hear.1https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/mindy-belz-helps-christians-think-about-the-middle-east/
They Say We Are Infidels describes the ways in which Muslims and Christians have lived among each other—although not always peacefully—for centuries, and specifically the diversity of cultures found within countries of Syria and Iraq. She even includes a timeline of key events going back to 1920 to aid the reader in a greater perspective.
Belz’s book is shaped by her personal experiences of reporting on the events and people in the Middle East since the 9/11 attacks. She focuses on how oppressive regimes and terrorist groups assaulted Christians wherever they were found, and describes the personal ramifications for international and political actions. Further, Belz helps us imagine life as a refugee—a life she encountered as she followed many fleeing persecution in Iraq.
Belz returned frequently to the area for over a decade, maintaining her relationships with churches and individuals she met along the way. These friendships allowed her access into the everyday lives of believers, particularly women, who live in much more restricted ways than many in the United States can fully comprehend. She writes about them in an intimate and respectful way, understanding that her access into these lives and hearts was a privilege to be honored.
Belz writes about Nisreen, a widow from the Iraq War who also lost her son when he, along with three other men, was violently murdered by insurgents while leaving the church one night in 2017. Nisreen stayed in Mosul to grieve for 40 days but eventually fled to Aleppo, Syria, for safety, hoping to achieve refugee status with the United Nations. Belz met her in 2018 and describes her grief, “She wore black and clutched a tissue, her face drained of color, ready to give way to tears at any moment. ‘We lost everything, we lost everything, we lost everything,’ she murmured.”
I was both convicted and encouraged by how faith truly sustains men and women like Nisreen and how the body of Christ sacrificially served each other, even at the risk of their own lives.
A Christian’s response
Belz’s descriptions, combined with factual documentation, of the terror inflicted upon women—who were truly girls as young as age 12—haunted my dreams.
I caution anyone who reads this book to be prepared for disturbing content including accounts of sexual abuse and forced marriage. Yet, I would recommend Christians read it. Our eyes must be opened to the reality of what is happening to innocent image-bearers of God at the hands of ISIS, even today after the defeat of the Islamic caliphate. And we must be compelled to endure in the work of prayer, advocacy and support, even long after the news headlines have ceased.
While we ponder how these places are part of our Christian history, it is critical that we understand that this diversity is the Christian church as it exists today. Belz’s love for these believers comes through in her writing, helping us all to see these people as our brothers and sisters in Christ, consider how we might help the vulnerable among them, and long for the day when wars will cease.