TORONTO, Canada – In the midst of anti-Iraqi sentiments, a pastor hopes for a Baptist church in Baghdad. Salaam Jaro, now pastor of Arabic Baptist Church in Toronto, fled his native home as the Persian Gulf War came to an end in 1991. Jaro envisions the same guidance of God that protected and helped him in times of need, to work miracles throughout Iraq.
Salaam Jaro’s path of faith had been miraculous to say the least. Prior to the war, Jaro completed the mandatory two years of service in the Iraqi army before taking a job in a weapons manufacturing plant in Baghdad. He worked in the plant for 6 years before the war began, and his workplace soon became a target for American missiles. However, amazingly, the incessant bombs that rained on Baghdad for weeks, never hit Jaro.
"The Lord has saved me so many times," Jaro said in a recent telephone interview. "I knew he had to have some special purpose for my life."
Although bombs struck the plant directly several times, Jaro was never on duty during the attacks.
"At other times I was at places which were bombed right after I left," he said. "Some people I knew in the Iraqi armed forces said they saw bombs coming down in a location right after I walked away."
During the war the poor living conditions in Baghdad proved fatal for many; However, Jaro and his family were able to endure the harsh circumstances. . Jaro drove his wife to the hospital in a car powered with oil and propane since gasoline supplies were cut off in Baghdad. The hospital where his wife Hiva gave birth lacked electricity, natural gas, water, or other items essential to medical facilities. The only source of water was the puddles in the street.
"A lot of the water was yellowish, and you had to boil it before you could use it," he said. "It felt like shampoo on your head."
Jaro and his family fled Iraq soon after the war ended, and stayed at a refugee camp across the Turkish border for three days. From Turkey, they made their way by boat to Greece. Jaro worked at a factory making animal food for three years at Greece before he and his family were given a chance to move to Canada as refugees under the patronage of the Canadian Embassy in Athens.
At Canada, Jaro, who grew up in a Catholic family, met Abraham Al-Rihi – former Arabic Baptist Church pastor who now serves as a missionary to South Asia. Through Al Rihi, Jaro who had even attended two years of Catholic seminary in Iraq, was genuinely able to meet the Lord.
"I had never known about Jesus Christ as Lord before," he said. "I had never heard that God sent His Son to die on the Cross for me to take away my sins."
After becoming Christian, Jaro said God gave him the capabilities to accomplish the things he was never able to do alone. Soon after, Al-Rihi placed Jaro as the pastorate at the Arabic church, and left for international missions.
Though Jaro hesitated at first, Al-Rihi comforted him, reminding him, “You'll never be ready in 100 years. But when you are weak, that's good. God can use you."
Jaro consented the position, remembering, “God didn't call us to a comfortable life, but to a life of sacrifice and struggle for his sake"
Jaro estimates 100,000 Muslims living in the Muslim are. His main concern comes from the likelihood of another war on Iraq.
"If this war leads to Saddam Hussein being deposed, that will be great," he said. "If it mainly affects the people of Iraq, that would be tragic."
Despite the threat of war in hi native land, Jaro envisions his future at Iraq.
"My dream is to start the first Baptist church in Baghdad," he said. "That is my vision."
By Pauline J.