AMMAN, Jordan – Baptist from across the Middle East gathered in Amman, Jordan, for the opening of the newly formed Baptist Union of Iraq. Several members were commissioned to strengthen the union’s service, Oct. 10.
Douglas Baba, pastor of an Iraqi congregation in the town of al-Fuhais in Jordan, was appointed as pastor/evangelist. Also commissioned was an Egyptian Baptist, Izzat Shehata, a graduate of the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, as a missionary to Mauretania in North Africa.
Members of the oldest of Jordan’s 17 Baptist congregation, Amman Baptist Church, also participated in the service. Representatives from the Jordanian and Lebanese Baptist conventions as well as staff members from various mission organizations also were present, including the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and Campus Crusade for Christ.
Led by the Amman church's pastor, Fawaz Ameish, the service, which included an impassioned sermon from Charles Costa, a Lebanese Baptist, ended with a laying on of hands in which Baptist leaders filed past the two men sitting on the platform. The commissioning of Baba to work in Iraq is the first stage of an evangelistic and church-planting initiative by the Baptist Union of Iraq.
Baptist work in Iraq started in 1985 as a development within the Presbyterian church and was led by Nabil Sara, a Presbyterian elder, and Khalil Samara, a missionary from Brazil.
In 1988, there were 500 Baptists, meeting in 50 homes; however, in common with all churches, numbers declined after the first Gulf War in 1991, largely because of emigration.
Baptists became a denomination in their own right in 1997. There are now five congregations in Iraq, two in Baghdad and three in the north of the country, all meeting in homes. In September, a baptismal service was held at a home using a portable swimming pool in which 31 people were baptized.
The Baptist Union of Iraq was formed in order to provide a unified organization to enable effective mission. A priority will be the planting of a church in the Kerekh area of Baghdad, which has a population of 3 million but no evangelical church.
Muthafar Yacoub, moderator of the Baptist Union of Iraq and one of three Iraqi exiles returning as Baptist leaders, said at a BUI general assembly meeting earlier in the day, "This is a new phase in our mission. I invite you to share in the ministry to which God has called us, and participate in this exciting adventure."
Another of the three, Mishiel Edward, who will return to Iraq when resources become available, said, "I think this is the time God wants to show His mercy. The way will be tough, but there will be blessing. I have peace inside.
"In five or 10 years I want to see more people coming to Jesus, and the cross everywhere."
Baba, who will return to Baghdad with his wife and three children as soon as accommodations can be found, said, "We believe that this is God's time for us, and that he has prepared us here to work in Iraq."