Andreas Knapp and two Little Sisters of Jesus visiting a family from Qaraqosh, Iraq, now living in Iraqi Kurdistan in this undated photo.
(PHOTO: ANDREAS KNAPP)

German author and Catholic priest Andreas Knapp traveled to Iraq where he heard about a young boy who was brutally killed simply for his cross necklace.

“In Mosul, IS terrorists stopped a boy in the street because he was wearing a small cross around his neck. They ordered him to throw it away, and when he steadfastly refused, they buried him alive,” Knapp wrote in his newly released book, The Last Christians: Stories of Persecution, Flight, and Resilience in the Middle East.

“Whenever I hear stories like this and meet Christians of such courage, I can’t help but wonder: How much is my faith worth to me? How high a price would I be prepared to pay?”

The story is only one of the countless tragedies Knapp witnessed or heard about from survivors and church and human rights workers when traveling to Iraq to speak with Christians who are being wiped out for their faith.

He shares many of those shocking stories as well as accounts of incredible courage in his book.

“I never fail to be impressed by the deep faith displayed by Eastern Christians. For the sake of Jesus Christ, they have suffered all kinds of harassment and even given up their homeland. Friends and relatives — including children — have paid for their Christian beliefs with their lives,” Knapp wrote.

The book explores fundamental questions about the future of Christianity, particularly when it concerns Aramaic Christians: Will they be killed off or scattered as refugees across the world, losing forever the language that Jesus spoke and their homelands where they lived for two millennia?

The Last Christians, which was released in September, also investigates some of the political currents that led to the formation of the Islamic State, such as the U.S.-led war on Iraq and dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

It describes a number of the severe attacks Christians have suffered at the hands of IS, but also from other extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, which increased its attacks on civilians after 2003.

Churches in Mosul were bombed, Christian schools were threatened with destruction unless the students converted to Islam, 5-year-old children were shot dead on their way to mass, and Christian girls were raped for refusing to wear veils, the author described. Now with the rise of IS, thousands of Yazidi and Christian women and young girls are being sold in modern-day slave markets.

Accounts tell of young women being raped for days by dozens of men, begging to be killed in order for the torture to stop, but only to be met with laughter and cynical remarks. One Christian girl who suffered “bestial abuse” at the hands of IS took rat poison to end her life, suffering a long, drawn-out death.

Other stories, such as one from the ancient Christian town of Sadat, tell of 45 men, women and children who were tortured, killed, and buried in a mass grave by radicals. Some of the young men were taken prisoners, but those who refused to renounce their faith and embrace Islam where shot dead.

“Whether Mosul or Tur Abdin, Damascus or Ma’loula, these places where the first Christians once gathered and prayed in Aramaic might now be inhabited by the last Christians to do so,” Knapp noted in one passage.

Amid the grim accounts, The Last Christians also shares the powerful dreams Jesus believers and refugees fleeing war have experienced and the hopes they have for a new life abroad.

One of the central questions the book focuses on is how Christians respond to such horror and to the prospect of being wiped out from their ancient homelands. Christians talk about their desire to defend themselves and their loved ones, but point to the heavens and talk of Jesus, who they say is against retaliation and using force, a model they have followed for millennia.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Stoyan Zaimov