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Understanding and Witnessing as a Christian in Baghdad

By Rev. Canon Andrew White
October 2007

As I sit and write this article, I can hear automatic weapons firing. I cannot imagine the tragedy going on outside our compound at this very moment. Constantly, I have people asking me to help them escape to another nation. It is not pleasant to live in one of the most dangerous places on earth. Yet I know this is where my work is; this is where God has sent me and this is where I love to be, here in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. Today is Sunday, so we had church this morning. As I led worship, I saw my congregation place their body armour, rifles and helmets aside and start to praise the living God.

Yesterday I led my Iraqi congregation. I could not leave the international zone and go to church; evidently, too many people want to kill me, so I cannot leave the secure area. My congregation had to come to me. This took hours as they were all forced to go through an intense security process. Yet these Christians are the most wonderful people I have ever served. They worship our Lord with great intensity and joy! In the midst of their darkness and fear, Jesus is their joy. When you lose everything, you realise Jesus is all you have.

As I led worship, I saw my congregation place their body armour, rifles and helmets aside and start to praise the living God.

In our Iraqi church, people no longer have food, water or homes. All they have must be provided by the church. Over two thousand Christians (who have been chased from their homes and threatened with death if they return) are now sleeping on church floors in Baghdad. Yet they continue to love Jesus. My work includes not just pastoring churches, but also dealing with religious sectarianism. In essence, I am a tentmaker. It is complex and difficult work. I do not always deal with very nice people. If you are trying to reduce violence, you can only do it by dealing with the people who cause it. Increasingly, these people are religious. In our context, they are Muslims—Shi’ia and Sunni—creating violence in God's name. When religion is at the heart of the cause of terror, you must use religion to deal with it.

I am accepted because I am seen as being a religious figure and one who has been around for nearly a decade—years before the Iraq War began. In my work, I deal with people who are suffering a degree of loss. Although they all want to be given something back, we must first discern what has been lost—property, money, influence? Sadly, governments spend billions of dollars on weapons and military tactics and very little on the process of reconciliation.

Proclaiming the Gospel in Baghdad?
In the midst of this war and trauma, we have a gospel to proclaim, the good news of Jesus. The whole notion of evangelism must be treated totally and utterly different in this context. There is no preaching on the streets or encouraging your congregation to convert the masses. Such activity would result in certain death.

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Rev. Canon Andrew White is president and CEO of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, chaplain of St. George's Church in Baghdad, Anglican/Episcopal chaplain of the International Zone Baghdad and senior advisor in Inter-Religious Affairs to the Prime Minister of Iraq. Over the past few years he has acted as a negotiator in many conflict situations, including the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the riots between Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria. In recent years, he has been awarded several prizes for his peace work, including the U.S. Cross of Valor, the Tanenbaum Peace Maker in Action Prize, the International Sternberg Prize, and the ICCJ Prize for Sustained Intellectual Contribution to Jewish-Christian Relations.