Keeping Church in Baghdad A Tenacious Pastor Addresses Unusual Challenges in this Post-War, Ancient City
Baghdad – Last month our US team including three guest pastors, Ken Ford, Mike Lundberg and Jon Campbell spent time in Baghdad meeting with our partnering church, her Pastor Ara, Assistant Pastor Mazin and staff. This church continues to grow with a strategic and impactful ministry to hundreds each month. Her ministry is special; many of her former members are all over the world and some only listen to Christian radio which other ministries in Baghdad are doing an excellent job with because of safety reasons.
This is a church of movement, and what makes this body of Christ unique is her sending power. People come and go from this church for many reasons. But they definitely keep coming and going.
Since 2003, the exodus of Christians from Iraq has been staggering. Estimates vary, but the Christian population in Iraq in 2003 was anywhere from 900,000 to 1.5 million. Now with some 300,000 Christians left in Iraq, many are scattered all over the world, including the US. The emotional and psychological scars born by both groups are evident; many overseas are homesick and long to return. Yet for those who cannot emigrate or choose not to leave, the sparsely attended wedding celebrations and funerals are stark reminders that nothing will ever be the same. The separation and loneliness from broken families and missing friends is only a conversation over cup of tea and a distant look away.
Where does this leave the church? For Pastor Ara, pictured here with John and our US team, the situation is complicated and somewhat of a double-edged sword. Many background Christian refugees who fled to Baghdad (or other areas) escaping violence in their villages at the hands of radical Islamists, attend the church. They are welcomed and attendance grows. These same refugees have significant needs for basics of shelter, food, water and clothing and look to relief organizations and the church for help. The church does what it can to help refugees, builds relationships and as a result, many open their hearts to the Gospel and encounter a new journey of faith. This is wonderful and the testimonies are each very dynamic! The church follows up with discipleship, meaning the very difficulties that hurt them are turned into ministry opportunities and in time, prepare those who will leave for their future assignments from the Lord. Think Acts and how persecution spread the Church.
This church sends her people equipped: some refugees emigrate out of Iraq, others return to their homes. Still others, unable to return home, continue to look to the church for some measure of help. Pastor Ara and the leadership look for ways to care for the poorest families without jobs (elderly, widows, orphans, the handicapped and those in danger) who have very little resources otherwise. Some manage to find jobs. Many become involved in ministry.
Meanwhile, life in Baghdad and in this church goes on: young couples are getting married and starting families, children attend school and AWANA, and youth groups are in full swing with pizza parties and Bible studies. Women meet weekly for Bible studies and prayer, and 12 to 14 home groups meet weekly to study the Bible and integrate new Believers into the Body. The mercy ministry to refugees sustains life month after month. The church’s bookstore attracts Christians and Muslims alike, with resources for seekers on who Jesus is, what the Bible says and how to come to faith.
This is a vibrant and growing Body of Christ whose beauty includes her scars, for she has suffered much with bomb attacks, threats, and a number of this body have been killed. This Pastor and Body of Believers are an example of grace and strength in the fire. To the Iraqi reading this in some area of the world who has had to leave your Iraqi homeland, we love you and pray God’s strength, provision and guidance for you.
Since 2004, Indigenous Ministries’ engagement with this church has revolved around helping with ministering to a war-impacted Christian and Muslim community. We are proud to partner with Pastor Ara and the team in Baghdad. In a few months watch for next steps in this partnership which we are praying over and believe the Lord is leading us into together for His glory.Please use and share this article as a way to pray with knowledge for this body of Believers in Iraq and the joys and challenges they face and that we are privileged to engage in with them.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
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