Expressions of Kindness for Iraq
Showing Christlike Compassion in the Aftermath of War
May 1, 2003 - The bombardment of Baghdad was not the first time Iraq has experienced "shock and awe." From Genesis to the Revelation, the land now known as Iraq has a unique place in God's history and prophecy. For almost 2,000 years, the Church there has endured isolation, intimidation, persecution and exploitation. In this latest time of war, the faithful in Iraq have been praying expectantly for God's deliverance, for freedom and for peace, and for help from Christians around the world.
by Tom Layton
Many believers' prayers could be answered through the outreaches of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Both organizations have been working with Christian partners in the Middle East to provide tangible expressions of unconditional love in the name of Jesus Christ.
Samaritan's Purse, anticipating the post-war humanitarian crisis, stockpiled enough medical and housing supplies and water near the borders of Iraq to provide emergency help to thousands of families as soon as military security was established.
BGEA's World Emergency Fund is supporting a Christian partner helping Iraqi refugees in Syria. Blue Ridge Broadcasting, an arm of BGEA, has helped international partners set up an FM radio station that will reach Baghdad with encouraging and relevant Gospel messages presented by pastors of underground churches in Arab countries.
Recent events in Iraq, like many events recorded in the Bible, have heralded a strategic opportunity for God's faithful to demonstrate His unconditional love.
"One day," said Walied (not his real name), an Iraqi Christian who lives in Baghdad with his wife and two sons, "we will be free."
That day may be dawning.
From the start, coalition forces realized that the war to liberate Iraq from decades of tyranny would involve more than simply changing the regime. It would also require sincere demonstrations of compassion. Suffering families would need relief. Battered communities would need reconstruction. Peace and stability would need an example.
The Samaritan Example
That's where Samaritan's Purse comes in—bringing experience, expertise and resources, along with the responsibility to treat strangers like neighbors and to help those in need.
"Compassion and service is a vital expression of Christianity," said Ken Isaacs, the international director of projects for Samaritan's Purse.
For months, Samaritan's Purse has prepared to offer unconditional help to all Iraqis who have suffered from war, oppression or destitution.
Walied was able to bring his family out of Baghdad weeks before the fighting started. As the war began, he feared for the safety of all Iraqis, especially his Christian brothers. The home of his in-laws was damaged by an attack on a nearby government building.
In Iraq, Christians cannot expect help from the besieged government. Instead, they pray that authorities looking for spies will not accuse them of treason.
It has been estimated that less than 2 percent of Iraq's citizens are Christians. Small as that number may seem, it is significant in comparison to neighboring Persian Gulf countries that have been even more oppressive against Christians.
Most of Iraq's Christians are associated with Catholic or Orthodox churches, but there are about 20,000 evangelicals in the country. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has five congregations in Iraq, and other denominations are also present.
Faith Under Fire
In recent years, Iraqi authorities have restricted how Christians can practice their faith. While regular Sunday-morning services have been permitted, Walied said that direct evangelism is forbidden, and church visitors are likely to be government informants. Non-Sunday meetings for prayer or Bible study have been outlawed. Missionaries have been banned from Iraq since 1969.
Walied, now in his 30s, was raised in a Catholic family but strayed into a sinful lifestyle—he said he "did everything except actually kill someone." A year after the first Gulf War devastated Iraq, an Arab Christian friend had the boldness to ask him, "If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?" Keenly aware of his mortality and convicted of his sins, Walied immediately accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Walied soon realized that his friends and associates—Muslims as well as nominal Christians—needed to know about Jesus and His promises of forgiveness and eternal life. Feeling called to full-time ministry, he left Iraq for several years of study and training.
Because the government does not allow ministry as a profession, Walied has worked through the education system to demonstrate the love of Christ to families in Baghdad.
Some of Walied's students came from Muslim families who discreetly told him that they appreciated his Christian influence. Such responses lead him to believe that many Iraqis will welcome the help of Western Christians in post-war Iraq.
In Abraham's Footsteps
For Samaritan's Purse, this emergency response required almost military-style preparations.
As troops were deployed to the Middle East, so were Samaritan's Purse workers. The advance team included Americans and Canadians who have experience in relief work resulting from conflicts in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Rwanda and Somalia. The team also included Christians from several Middle East countries who were familiar with Iraq's culture and language.
Anticipating that the United States or United Nations would distribute food, Samaritan's Purse decided to focus on the needs of water, shelter, and health and household items for thousands of families. The staff included a water team headed by two engineers and a doctor.
Preparations were facilitated by goodwill from the ministry's longtime relationships in the Middle East—especially in the kingdom of Jordan, where Samaritan's Purse has helped provide medical care to Bedouins for many years.
In addition to the work planned in Iraq, Samaritan's Purse has been helping families who fled Iraq to neighboring countries by providing them with food, blankets, clothing and other needs. (As this magazine went to press, Samaritan's Purse was still awaiting military clearance to enter Iraq.)
"The only hope for Iraq is freedom—religious freedom and political freedom," Walied said. With a change of government and with the end of United Nations sanctions, he believes Iraq will thrive on the skills and the influence of its citizens, including thousands of Iraqi Christians who are likely to return from exile.
Can God's Word and believers' actions change the hearts of the people of Iraq? The Bible assures us that it wouldn't be the first time. Like their native son Abraham, the people of Iraq have waited a long time to see God's promises fulfilled. This could be their moment of truth.