Despite the loss of four missionaries earlier this week, many Christians in Iraq speak with confidence about the future. Under Saddam Hussein the Presbyterian Church was the only allowed Protestant Church. Now, churches have the freedom to organize as they wish and are doing so.
Seven hundred people attended the opening ceremony of the National Evangelical Baptist Church in Baghdad, the first Baptist church in Iraq. The Baptist Union of Iraq was founded in October with five member churches. Another church in Baghdad has nearly completed the construction of its 450-seater building, but already this is too small for its growing congregation. This growing number of churches provides a diversity of worship services. Representatives of several Protestant churches are discussing forming an Evangelical Alliance, as exists in many countries, to facilitate working together in unity wherever appropriate.
Many Christian missionaries in Iraq report a wonderful, warm, welcome from local people. One group who wondered if they would be attacked was welcomed by a tribal leader as brothers. The local people gladly unloaded both food supplies from the team's truck, and the tribal leader gladly accepted a New Testament as a gift. The tribal leader later contacted the team leader and asked to discuss what he had read.
Elsewhere in Iraq, some Christians have felt obliged to leave their homes and flee the country because of intense pressure from religious extremists. Iraq is indeed a diverse country, and Iraqi Christians, like their compatriots, experience great sorrows as well as great joys.
Christians in Iraq say that their biggest need is for leadership training for local Christians to be able to lead the newly emerging churches. Missionaries in Iraq are currently assisting with this need, and are also bringing equally essential development assistance to the country.