As war and persecution in the Middle East threaten the existence of ancient Christian communities, a prominent church leader from the Assyrian Church of the East visited our nation’s capital this week to deliver an urgent plea for help.

Bishop Mar Awa Royel leads the Assyrian Church of the East Diocese of California. In Washington, D.C., he warned that immediate action must be taken to help Middle Eastern Christians before it’s too late.

“We have a systematic destruction of the ancient Assyrians, if you will, through the artifacts, and also the modern Assyrians, modern Assyrian Christians,” Bishop Royel said.

“And this leads us to believe that this is a plan that is very calculated, very systematic and I would add that, it could be defined as genocide,” he said.

Bishop Royel suggested that without strong, decisive action from the West, Assyrian Christians–one of the oldest Christian communities in the world–could face annihilation. He said what Middle East Christians are facing today is martyrdom truly defined.

“We are going back to the early Church, what we read about in the book of Acts, to the martyrdom of Saint Stephen who was the first martyr,” he warned.

In late February, ISIS drove 5,000 Assyrian Christians from their homes in northeastern Syria in and around the city of Tal Tamr. As many as 350 of them were kidnapped.

CBN News Terrorism Analyst Erick Stakelbeck is the author of the new book, ISIS Exposed. He said only strong leadership and a forceful response against ISIS will save the ancient Christian communities.

“They need to be decisively crushed,” Stakelbeck said. “I think what we did in World War II to the German war machine, to the Japanese war machine–we crushed them, we demoralized them, their ideology was proven bankrupt. They were just defeated, soundly defeated. We need to do that with ISIS right now.”

Bishop Royel said people around the world also need to pray.

“We should pray for the immediate release of the innocent children and women and elderly who have been kidnapped. We need to pray that the governments in the West will feel the urgency of the matter and act accordingly,” the bishop urged.

“And also we should pray for our enemies,” he added. “That may be difficult to say, but we should pray for those who are perpetrating these atrocious acts against the Assyrian Christians because Christ has taught us to do so.”

American Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Iran for his faith, was visibly shaken after witnessing six fellow prisoners beaten and taken to the gallows for execution, his wife says.

Saeed’s family was able to have a brief visit with the pastor, who has been imprisoned for two and half years in one of the country’s worst prisons.

“Saeed was quite shaken as he had to witness six fellow prisoners being beaten and taken to be executed (hanged) that day,” Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, wrote in an update.

“It was a hard and dark day having witnessed that and seeing life being taken. The prison visit was also very hard as the families of those who were executed were crying and wailing,” she said.

Sign the American Center for Law and Justice’s petition to free Saeed here. Send a pre-written letter, or you can write your own words to the Iranian president at the Be Heard Project: Saeed Abedini.

“It was also an emotional visitation as it is getting closer to Jacob’s 7th birthday. Last time Saeed saw Jacob he was 4 years old,” she added.

Such executions are not uncommon in the Iranian prison.

“Pastor Saeed remains in an incredibly dangerous situation. Summary executions, inmate violence, and beatings are commonplace, particularly in Rajai Shahr prison,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said.

Saeed’s health has also not improved after suffering from severe internal injuries from beatings, his wife said.

“The Obama administration must do all within its power to bring this wrongfully imprisoned U.S. citizen home to his family in America,” Sekulow said.

“After President Obama met with Pastor Saeed’s wife and children last month, we have continued to work with the U.S. State Department as we pressure the administration not to leave Pastor Saeed behind as it sits at the negotiating table with Iran,” he said.

ACLJ representatives and Naghmeh discussed her husband’s deteroriating health with the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, David Sapertsein. Iran has routinely denied to provide him medical treatment.

“There can be no deal with Iran as it imprisons and torments our own citizens,” Sekulow wrote.

“Thank you all for praying. Please continue to pray for Saeed to have the strength to endure in that harsh prison and that Jesus would continue to meet him there and give him hope. Please pray that this will be the year that Saeed is released,” Naghmeh wrote.

300 Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS

The fate of more than 300 Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in Syria is still unknown. Assyrian leaders, working with Sunni tribal leaders, are reportedly in negotiations for the release of all hostages.

On February 23, ISIS attacked 35 Assyrian villages in northeast Syria. The Assyrian International News Agency reports that four Christians taken by the Islamic State during the raids have been released, including a 6-year-old girl.

Hadeel Kouki is a 24-year-old Syrian Christian. She escaped from Syria in 2012 after being repeatedly imprisoned and beaten by Syrian intelligence.

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