Ministering in one of the most tumultuous and politically charged Islamic cities in the world, Baghdad, this pastor is definitely dedicated. He and his wife minister under stresses and pressures most of us cannot imagine, yet alone handle. So how does he do it? What does success look like for his church? And do we have a part in all this? The church he serves is a vital beacon of hope in Baghdad. A quiet, pensive and humble servant of the Lord, the man you’ll meet is also courageous with a grace in suffering from the Lord. (We are not sharing his picture due to security issues).
I asked him to share with us on several topics giving us entrance into his unique world:
Pastor, what are some of the ways you are seeing growth in your church? Since 2012 till now I have seen that the hand of the Lord is working in a number of people, who believed in Christ, have been baptized, and started serving the Lord in several ministries.
Each year I have between 3-5 people believing and following in baptisms, in addition, each year several people are believing but they cannot take baptism due to their cultural and traditional challenges. In spite of that I have more than 30 active leaders in the different aspects of the ministry, and most of them are the fruits of the creative ministry that we have started in the end of 2012.
Pastor, take us back in time. How did you end up in this very challenging ministry in Iraq? The date June 26, 2012, was one of the important dates in my life. I went back from Beirut to Baghdad, with my MDiv certificate, to lead the church in Baghdad, in that difficult time. This was when a number of Christian families had left after the massacre of the Lady of Salvation Cathedral.*
It was a very difficult time to return, and lead a small congregation, with a small number of leaders. At that time, I was in prayer before God to ask him about the way He wanted me to continue in it, to reach the outsiders with the Gospel.
In September in the same year, we developed these Vision and Mission statements:
1. To see God glorified in our ministry and country, through our ministry
2. To witness Christ and His work by what we say and do
Between September 2012, until September 2014** the Lord was working in my life, and the team of ministry’s lives. In 2014 we started working with displaced families from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, from Mosul, Nineveh plain, and west of Iraq.
We supported them by providing food packages, materials for school, and gifts for students, beside presenting the values of the Kingdom of God by the team of AWANA.
What have been some of your biggest challenges? In the first two years, I faced challenges concerning applying the vision and mission in the midst of difficult context. But in September 2014 the Lord opened a new and important door for His ministry; visiting the refugee camps outside Baghdad, first starting with Muslim Shia, then Sunni, Yazidis, and Roman Catholic, till now. However, the challenges changed, like the situation in Iraq quickly.
After the dramatic changes in Iraq at the end of the last year***, and the protesters being in the roads and squares, the congregation of the church decided to present a positive response. We visited the Liberty square in the center of Baghdad, brought food to the protesters, and prayed for the people and the country in the midst of the square. The big challenge that we are facing right now is the unstable situation in Iraq with the protesting people, who are asking for the Justice, Equality and Rights.
How did your training prepare you for this ministry? My training in the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut for three years in intensive courses was important to me to in reshaping my opinion about the ministry, and God’s mission for His church.
I learned that the ministry is not only the classic services that we know, which are held inside the building of the church. In fact, the real and effective ministry takes place outside the building of the church, when the people of God meet together, pray and encourage each other, learn from each other, and bring the Word of God to those far from Him. Those who don’t want to or are unable to visit the church in the classic services.
Please share with us some of the work of the Lord that is going on in the church and through it: We experience the power of the Lord through several ministries; celebrations and events we hold inside and outside the building of the church such as: The Word of Life Bookshop and Cultural-Educational Center, lectures and trainings.
As a church, we also collaborate with relief programs, especially the program of Child Sponsorships in collaboration with Indigenous Ministries to support the displaced families and their children who attend Sunday School, and are learning from the Word of God. I am very pleased to see the children from the Nineveh Plain try to get Kingdom values in their life; even with difficult situations in their life.
Before I left Iraq to Beirut for my training in 2009, I received a promise from the Lord from Genesis 28:13-15, which was a call for me to come back to this country, to serve Him. Then, when I came and started the ministry, these verses have continued to be in front of my eyes. Especially when I am presenting lectures at universities or institutes, or am meeting with government officials or political figures.
In spite of our difficult context, the promise of the Lord and my calling are always leading me to serve Him, not in my own way and will, but in His Way, to fulfill His will.
What are some fun and relaxing activities you and the church enjoy? We have picnics several times per year. In addition, we have times for fun during celebrations such as; Mother’s day, Father’s day, special events for children or women. Aside from that, we are planning to arrange a four day picnic in Erbil, to hold the yearly conference of our church, and get some rest as a family.
Special thanks to Pastor Ara for sharing his heart and articulating his challenges and blessings to us.