An evangelical group is seeking to equip and train Christian leaders in Iraq, where recently a constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion is approved, as part of its goal to mobilize one million Christian leaders outside of the US by 2008. EQUIP, a non-profit ministry based in Duluth and founded by Dr. John Maxwell of The INJOY Group, is part of a growing evangelical movement of U.S.-based groups worldwide, devoted to training key leaders internationally.
Recalling his recent trip to Iraq, where 90% of population is Muslim, EQUIP President John D. Hull said, "This is an emerging church. Everything there is in its infancy.”
Hull said his group — four Americans and eight Egyptians — was invited to Iraq by Iraqi Christian ministers from various denominations, including the Southern Baptist, Free Methodist, and Evangelical Presbyterian, who knew of Equip's partnership with Kasr El-Dobarah Evangelical Church in Cairo, Egypt.
"We held what we're told by the locals was the very first pastors' leadership conference in the history of Iraq," Hull said.
During its 10-day visit, the group led sessions discussed strategies for growth, the importance of integrity and the call of leadership. Hull said Equip's basic goal is to help the pastors of Iraq develop their leadership skills although there is high possibility of the U.S. missionaries to face persecution.
Many scholars are concerned of the U.S. Christians going to Iraq.
"Western Christianity is viewed as an instrument of imperialism, of colonialism," said Gordon D. Newby, a professor of Islamic studies at Emory University. "And so they're going to suspect the motives, just as they suspect the motives of our troops" in Iraq.
"The idea that somehow the Christians in the West are the people to train Christians in other parts of the world is totally misplaced," said Thomas Thangaraj, Brooks associate professor of world Christianity at Emory. "That is assuming that we have the right Christianity and the better Christianity and we need to go and help everybody else."
He added that right now is not a good time to reach out to Iraq. "We are now in a climate of occupation," he said. "We are militarily occupying, politically occupying, economically occupying. Any religious activity at this point from here to there has an occupation character to it."
Despite such concerns Hull believes it’s more important for Christians to serve others who are in need. Hull is planning to return to Iraq in six months to hold another conference.
"I think there are many people that are there that may not like the fact that Americans are there, that Christians are there, that freedom is there," he said. "But I do believe that as long as there are opportunities for Christians around the world to serve the needs of their brothers and sisters, that the church will respond regardless of the cost."