Business is “As Usual” for Iraqi Churches

One week after five bombs exploded in front of Iraqi churches, Christians explained that the faith to worship overcomes the ever-present fear
( [email protected] ) Aug 07, 2004 04:46 PM EDT

One week has passed since the deadly terrorist bombings occurred outside five Iraqi Christian churches and according to an elder at Baghdad’s Assyrian Evangelical Presbyterian Church, business will be ‘as usual.”

“Yes, yes, people will be coming to church on Sunday,” he said over a phone interview. “There will be an ordinary service. This morning, I was in the church. There was Bible study; there were the children for Sunday school. I was there with the church council. We stayed for more than two hours.”

Not only will the church operate as usual, according to Al Saka, the AEPC will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the construction of its sanctuary this coming Sunday.

According to Al Saka, police are outside the church building, providing shelter from any further attacks by terrorists – last week’s attacks killed 11 people and injured dozens of both Christians and Muslims.

The pastor of AEPC, Rev. Younan Shiba, was in the U.S. when the bombings happened, and said he is worried about the escalating violence in the area.

“Fear is a constant, an ever-present factor in this kind of attack,” he said. “There’s fear that there is more to come.”

Shiba, an itinerant pastor, explained that lawlessness, looting, raping and robbery has become the norm in many parts of Iraq; his own home was burglarized twice in the past two months. Shiba explained that before Sunday’s attacks, he was only worried about such chaos; now, he is worried about terror.

“There’s been a generalized fear of going out in the streets, to the markets,” he says. “Now the thresholds of sacred spaces have been trespassed. I’m afraid … it will be more difficult to keep people coming to worship.”

However, according to another Iraqi Christian in Mosul, attendance has been normal even after the attacks; the Sunday evening worship and Wednesday worship was held as usual and the congregants came out to the services as usual.

“Some people were afraid, but considered coming to worship an act of faith,” the man, who asked not to be identified, said.

“No church here has asked for extra security,” he added. “Some of the youth have volunteered to stand watch outside, but they won’t be armed.”

Greg Rollins, a Canadian Christian who is stationed at the Christian Peacemaker Team branch in Baghdad, said he is unsure what strategy they will use in comforting Christians this Sunday.

“We’re not sure whether to go to the churches that have not been bombed, since they are more likely targets than those that were,” he said, “or whether it is best to go to the ones who’ve been bombed and express solidarity. Those are the options on the table.”

The CPT is a global group that documents human-rights violations and tries to halt violence in volatile locations such as Iraq, Palestine and Columbia.

According to the Presbyterian News Service, Rollins and his colleagues Doug Pritchard and Peggy Gish were in the area when a bomb exploded in front of an Armenian church. Rollins was at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church while Pritchard and Gish were at St. Yousef’s Chaldean church.

Pritchard, CPT’s Toronto director, said he and the others would be in church again this Sunday.

“We’ll go as we always do,” he said.