Christians from U.S. Eager to Expand Their Work in Iraq

( [email protected] ) Mar 22, 2004 09:23 AM EST

BAGHDAD – Although recently there has been an attack on American missionaries in Iraq, America is not discouraged from spreading the Gospel in Iraq. As a constitution has been approved this month by the U.S. appointed Iraqi Governing Council, what the U.S. hopes to establish in Iraq is a democratic government where there is religious freedom.

"In America, people are free to be either Christian or Muslim. Here, the family applies Muslim law, and if someone in the family leaves Islam, the family will slaughter them. In America people are free, but here they are not free," said the Rev. Ikram Mehanni, senior pastor of a Presbyterian church in Baghdad.

The document which will take effect in June 30, states: "This Law respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice."

It also says: "Each Iraqi has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice. Coercion in such matters shall be prohibited."

Missionaries from the United States, are planning to open new churches in Baghdad and reinforce evangelism and mission in around that region. For example, a center for evangelical mission activity: a Denver-based Youth With a Mission team is planning to expand its work to Iraq, and a Colorado Springs Bible publisher has distributed Christian literature.

Also there have been some changes made in the way churches hold worship. At the New Life Church, a new church in Iraq, congregation is more involved in praising as Christian worship is experiencing less restriction. "Not all churches have the same way of worshiping," Bashar Khamo, 25, an architect, said after the service. "We believe the Lord wants to build a new country and we ask the Holy Spirit to come to this land and heal this land." The Rev. Hala Jules, who was singing in joy during the service commented, "God will touch each person in His own way. We believe God will protect us."

Moreover, many Christian-based aid groups are actively involved in providing physical needs of the people. Some of the new evangelical churches are setting up more aid organizations.

U.S. Army Sgt. Shawn Jensen of Wilmington, N.C., witnessed the work of such aid group. "There was a lot of aid coming in. People were bringing in boxes and distributing aid on the streets but no one knew where it went. Some of it wound up on the black market," said Sgt. Jensen, who is seeking to have his one-year tour of duty in Iraq extended to continue developing his group, "Alive," as a registered NGO. "I prayed a simple prayer asking God to make a way to help. I saw a need in Sadr City," he said.

"I believe there are people in this city who need to hear your voice, to say out loud: 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of salvation,'" said the Rev. Darrell W. Phenicie, an American who visited the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Baghdad on a recent Sunday.

"Don't complain and say: 'You don't know my neighbors. They don't like Christians.' Don't complain about the nonbelievers in this city, because everyone here has a better life than they," Phenicie said.

The church is affiliated with an organization of the same name based in Colorado Springs, and has a presence in more than 50 nations.

Mark S. Case of the Father's Field, a ministry based in Brandon, Miss. said in hope, "I go in [to Iraq] to help the local churches however I can. Then I get out of the way, because local churches best know how to help local people.”

In strong conviction that Gospel can win the hearts of Muslims, Case said, "When the Christians in the U.S. learn the love of God and show that love to the Muslim world, the Muslims will want to come to know Jesus Christ.”

He added: "The Muslims are very afraid. If there were not a threat ... it would be like pouring water on a dry sponge. You would have to build a thousand churches every day."