NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Muthafar Yacoub, moderator of the Baptist Union of Iraq, said Christians and moderates in Iraq are now "more afraid of the fundamentalists inside and outside of Iraq than they ever were of Saddam."
In comments to Baptist Press, Yacoub said fall of reign of Saddam Hussein allowed Christians in Iraq religious freedom. But Yacoub expressed insecurity about the future and fear that militant parties will take control.
"With Saddam gone, who will take power?" Yacoub asked. "For how long will we enjoy this new freedom we have to worship God openly as Baptists, as evangelical believers in Jesus Christ?"
Yacoub said he hopes in the future Iraqi Christians will enjoy more personal religious freedom with more churches and be able to produce many Christian leaders through a Baptist seminary and other Baptist schools to educate the young Iraqis and share Jesus with the masses through a Christian radio station to share Jesus with the masses
"We hope that the new government will separate the state from religion and that we can witness and share Bibles with anyone without any problem," he said.
The churches in Iraq are in great need of trained leaders.
"We need someone to come and help train our young people to be leaders and someone to help us disciple new believers in the right way," Yacoub said. "We need strong Bible teachers to teach those men who would be pastors and house church leaders. We also need women Bible teachers to teach our women leaders."
Yacoub also reported of the difficult economic and political situations that are hindering Iraqi Christians from supporting their own churches. The church ministry is receiving support from the generous donations given by people.
Yacoub urged American Christians who wish to pray for Iraqi believers to pray for their safety and security as well as for improved living conditions.
Yacoub also noted about the mixed feelings that Iraqi Christians had about the fall of Hussein.
"Many of us had brothers and fathers that were killed by Saddam or killed in one of Saddam's wars," he said. "We were happy that he was captured. However, we also felt sorry for Saddam as a human being when we first saw him on the TV because he looked terrible. In the Arab world, showing respect as a human being is important even if it is to people such as Saddam. To see even someone like Saddam treated in this way, without any dignity, caused some hard feelings about the U.S. in the eyes of the Iraqi and Arab peoples."
Nabeeh Abbassi, the official representative of the Jordanian Baptist Convention to the regional Iraqi task force and the Jordanian member of a special advisory committee to the Baptist Union of Iraq, expressed similar concerns to those of Yacoub.
"Jordanian Christians did not suffer under Saddam," he said. "When we saw him on the TV we felt sorry for him as a human being because we are taught that love does not rejoice in the misery of others. We were sad for him but very happy for the Iraqi people and the future of the ministry in Iraq."
As Abbassi reported of the dedication of the first Baptist church in Iraq in Baghdad Jan. 16, he said a new ear will open up allowing people religious freedom that they never had before under Hussein’s regime as Saddam’s power is no longer present in Iraq. He hopes the land of Abraham will become the home of religious freedom in the Middle East where the entire region can receive blessings through Iraq.
"As long as the U.S. and the [Coalition Provisional Authority] is there, the door will stay open," Abbassi said. "Knowing the regional governments and regimes, if the U.S. and CPA does not stay in Iraq and keep up pressure on the fundamentalists, this new freedom will not remain."
"We are joyful about our association with Baptists around the world and no longer fear to be associated with any foreigners," he said.
In solution to the financial difficulties, Abbassi proposed the U.S. Baptists to cooperate with the Baptist Union of Iraq.
"We want our Baptist brothers and sisters in the U.S. to join with us and cooperate with the [Baptist Union of Iraq] so that we can help Iraqis stand on their own feet," he said. "We want to see an indigenous work flourish in Iraq, and we have dedicated ourselves to work with our Iraqi brothers and sisters until this happens."
He also wished the US to play an important role in separating the state from religion so that people can have the freedom to choose and lead the Arab to open to democracy.
"The U.S., the CPA and the [United Nations] must insist that the Iraqi people include an emphasis on religious freedom in their new constitution," Abbassi said. "The U.S. and CPA must stay in Iraq until they see that religious freedoms are being respected. Hopefully, our Arab neighbors will see the results and change their own systems."