Voice of the Martyrs Korea announced today a plan to place copies of the first-ever modern Chaldean dialect Bible in 30,000 Christian homes in Northern Iraq, through a partnership with local Iraqi Christians and its sister mission, Voice of the Martyrs Australia.
“This is more than a Bible distribution project,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “It’s a major step forward to revitalizing Christianity alive in the Middle East.”
According to Representative Foley, the project’s goal is to print and distribute 30,000 Bibles to Christian families living in the region of the Nineveh Plains in Northern Iraq, one of the oldest continuous Christian settlements in the world. Distribution is also planned for Ainkawa-Erbil, a historically Christian town where many of the Christian families who formerly lived on the Nineveh Plains fled to escape war and attacks from the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization.
“This is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and yet many of the Christians there have never had their own Bibles, nor have they ever heard the Bible in their own daily language,” says Representative Foley. She says the Bibles that will be distributed through the project will be family Bibles for everyday home use, not pulpit Bibles for use at churches.
“The Bible used in churches in the region is written in Old Aramaic, or ‘Kthobonoyo’, also called ‘book language’ or ‘high language’ by the people there,” says Representative Foley. “It was the mother tongue of Jesus and many of the earliest Christians, but over the centuries the daily language of the people has continued to develop. Today, the Christians on the Ninevah plains speak Chaldean and Assyrian dialects, which are both forms of Eastern Aramaic. The Bible that will be distributed through this project will be the first ever printed translation into the everyday spoken dialect of Christians in the region.”
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the 1987 Iraqi census showed that 1,500,000 Christians were living in the country, but by 2006 it was estimated that the number had dropped below 800,000, or approximately 3 percent of Iraq’s overall population of 28.2 million. Research by the Shlama Foundation estimates that about 150,000 Christians remained in Iraq as of July 2020, a 90% decrease in the Christian population in the past 35 years.
According to Representative Foley, difficulties faced by Iraqi Christians under the Baathist rule of Saddam Hussein contributed to the decline, which worsened significantly as the Islamic State (IS) took control of large parts of the country. “Saddam Hussein kept anti-Christian violence under control but subjected Mesopotamian-Aramaic speaking Christians to ethnic, cultural, and racial discrimination, including forced relocation,” says Representative Foley. “Christians were pressured to identify themselves as Arabs. Then in 2014 when IS gained control of the areas around Mosul in northern Iraq, they expelled Christians from the Nineveh Plain.”
According to Representative Foley, more than 100,000 Christians fled from the Nineveh Plain to the autonomous Kurdish areas.
A Bible rescued from Islamic State vandalism at a church in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains. Photo credit: Charmaine Hedding, Shai Fund.
Bibles rescued from Islamic State vandalism at a church in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains. Photo credit: Charmaine Hedding, Shai Fund.
“Many of the families fled with the hope and expectation of being able to return to their homes quickly, but this proved to be a futile hope,” says Representative Foley. “After IS was defeated, some families did return, but what they saw was total destruction. IS treated the homes of Christians in a terrible way in the Nineveh Plain area. Churches were bombed into rubble. Bibles were collected and burned. Anything that had any relation to Christianity was destroyed.”
Representative Foley notes that international aid groups have continued to help Iraqi Christians to rebuild their homes, churches, and businesses, but she believes that full recovery will require something that many Iraqi Christians did not have even before they fled: Family Bibles translated in the everyday language of the people.
“Never before has a family Bible been published in modern Chaldean dialect,” says Representative Foley. “Most of the Iraqi Christians come from the Chaldean Catholic Church or the Syriac Orthodox Church. Some of the Syriac Orthodox Christians have had family Bibles in their homes. But even these Bibles are written in so-called ‘book language’ or ‘high language’. So all they can understand is whatever and however the priest translates for them at church.”
Still, Representative Foley says that churches of all denominations in the region have supported the importance of individual Christians being able to read the Bible for themselves at home. She says the support of the local churches is essential for the project, since printing can only happen with the approval of a government-recognized church official. In this case, the Chaldean Church provided official approval of the project.
The Bible is being printed locally, in a two-color hardback edition. “This enables us to avoid import difficulties and also ensure a high-quality family Bible that can last for generations, for a very low cost,” says Representative Foley.
Sanctuary of a church in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains. Photo credit: Charmaine Hedding, Shai Fund.
A cross painted by an Iraqi church leader to cover graffiti scrawled by Islamic State terrorists on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains. Photo credit: Charmaine Hedding, Shai Fund.
Each Bible costs 9,500 KRW.
“Given the statistical data on the average family composition of Christian families in the area, we have calculated that 30,000 family Bibles should reach an equivalent of 150,000-180,000 Christians able to read and hear the scripture daily in the privacy of their own homes,” she says.
Through the project, Voice of the Martyrs Korea plans to cover the cost of 5,000 of the total 30,000 Bibles planned for distribution, for a total cost to Voice of the Martyrs Korea of 47,500,000 KRW.
The ministry is collecting funds through the end of September. Printing is being done 5,000 copies at a time, and distribution is scheduled for completion by the end of 2022.
“What IS tried to take away from churches, we will now put back into the homes of these Christian families, in a more accessible language and format,” says Representative Foley.
Donations can be made until the end of September at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “Bible” on the donation.