Relaymedia

'Pivotal moment in history' Ahead in Iraq

Apr 17, 2003 04:09 PM EDT

AMMAN, Jordan -- As stability returns to Iraq, Southern Baptist workers are gearing up for massive relief projects inside the country that will need hundreds of volunteers to staff.

Workers have made plans to feed hungry people in both northern and southern Iraq -- and meet other needs as well -- but only if enough volunteers and funds are available.

The opportunity for Southern Baptists to demonstrate God's love in Iraq is a "pivotal moment in history" that must not be ignored, said John Brady, coordinator of Southern Baptist work across the Middle East and northern Africa.

"We in the church are the body of Christ," Brady said. "It is through us that He wants to work in this troubled part of the world.

"There will be both an urgency and an opportunity inside Iraq after the war," he added. "This will be a narrow window of opportunity and we must begin getting ready now."

One Southern Baptist worker braved missiles and gas attacks when he flew into a country near Iraq during the war to explore how Southern Baptists might move food and supplies through the region. Other workers have explored avenues of service in surrounding countries.

Six Southern Baptist workers set up one of the first ministry projects at a tent city for refugees in eastern Jordan near the Iraqi border. They have distributed food, diapers and other supplies to Sudanese, Somalis, Egyptians and Palestinians who fled hostilities in Iraq.

IMPOVERISHED TOWNS

One worker even managed to visit southern Iraq just before the war began. He saw impoverished towns and villages where basic systems such as electricity and water supplies were barely working even before fighting began and heavily oppressed people struggled to survive.

More than half of Iraq's people depended on humanitarian aid for food before the war. While shops had food and goods for sale, few Iraqis had money to buy anything, he said.

Since the war began, he said, nearly a half million Iraqis have fled their homes and are basically refugees in their own country.

"We will not be trying to duplicate the work of the large aid agencies or governments that will be doing relief work in Iraq," the worker said. "More likely, Southern Baptists will assume responsibility for certain villages and help provide them with food, water or other assistance."

Some work may be with Marsh Arabs, a minority group of Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq. If that happens, it would be the group's first contact with evangelical Christians on a large scale. The same is true for the Kurds in northern Iraq.

DESPERATE NEEDS

"We must think of people groups cut off from the outside world, fearful of their own government," Brady said. "They have been imprisoned and oppressed, and they desperately need both political and spiritual freedom."

River water is contaminated and salination is a problem in much of southern Iraq -- and getting clean water will be one of the biggest needs people have, the worker said. Blankets and tents may be needed more in northern Iraq.

"It will be critical for our volunteers to set up micro projects in villages to both meet needs and show people we care about them," said Brian Barlow, a Southern Baptist worker in Jordan. "A church might adopt a school and send in school supplies or provide a ball field and equipment for a village.

"We will need to establish long-term programs of good will," he said.

Other Southern Baptist workers familiar with Iraq agreed that almost any kind of willing evangelical workers will be needed after the war.

Top-priority needs will include all sorts of medical and dental workers, construction workers, agricultural and livestock workers, logistics workers and fish farm experts, Brady said.

Along with the need for workers, Brady said there will be a great need for funds, both for humanitarian projects and literature, cassettes and other materials. He urged Southern Baptists to remember needs in Iraq as they give through their churches this year.

PLEA FOR PRAYER

Workers also pleaded for special prayer support from Southern Baptists. "If you can give us your prayers, we will succeed with this," one worker said.

"A church can turn the tide of war only from its knees," Brady said. While post-war ministry could be difficult and possibly dangerous, "those who respond will have the joy of serving God and the privilege of seeing Him work miracles in the hearts and lives of the Iraqi people," he promised.

For information on how to respond to the Iraq crisis, call the International Mission Board's Iraq Response Desk at 1-800-999-3113 ext. 1641.

Churches or individuals who would prefer to make a donation toward the cost of the project can designate checks to "Iraq Response - General Relief" and mail them to: Iraq Response, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230-0767. Make checks payable to International Mission Board and designate "Iraq Response - General Relief."

By Albert H. Lee
[email protected]