Looking Ahead and Up as Christians Are Persecuted in Iraq

In 2007, we watched as Christians were persecuted, killed, and massacred in Dura, south of Baghdad. Many fled Baghdad and went to the safe area of Nineveh in the heart of Mosul. The place they fled to is the heart of the Christian community. In recent days, the Christians have again been targeted, killed, and massacred. This time not in Baghdad, but in the heart of the Christian area of Nineveh. While in church recently, I asked our people how many of them were from Nineveh; about eighty percent said they were.

Our church warden’s nephew and his father had just been shot dead outside their house in Nineveh. Alhassan, the nephew, was due to be engaged that same week. As I left church, I was phoned again by church members who had heard that their family home in Nineveh had been blown up. There were now seven people without a home and in need of help.

The fact that Christians are now being attacked in the heartland of Christianity is very significant. Here, the people have believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for 2,700 years—since Jonah, the miserable evangelist, turned up by submarine transportation. Seven hundred years later, another miserable person, doubting Thomas, turned up on his way to India. He told the Ninevites that their messiah had arrived down the road in Israel. The people believed. As a result, Nineveh is the longest-standing Christian place in the world. Today, Christians in Iraq most revere Jonah and Mar Thoma (St. Thomas). St. Georges Anglican Church Baghdad is now the largest church in Iraq with nearly two thousand members.

None of our people are traditionally Anglican; however, now, in the midst of trauma, denominations do not matter—all that matters is that that we believe in Jesus. During a recent service I told our people what I regularly tell them: “There are no guarantees that we will not be killed this week, but there is one guarantee: when we see Jesus, we will be like him.” At this, the people always cheer.

We cannot deny the success of the U.S. surge; violence is still down in Baghdad. However, the sad reality is that many terrorist groups like Al Qaida have moved north to places like Mosul. Who is responsible for the violence is still not clear: some say Sunni Muslims, others say Al Qaida, still others say the Kurds. This seems quite unlikely, as many Christians have now escaped Nineveh/Mosul and are seeking refuge in Kurdistan. Added to these many problems and dangers that Christians are facing has also been the Parliament’s recent dismissal to allow minorities to have representation reserved in the regional governments. Life is very hard for the remaining Christians in Iraq; the majority of this minority have already fled. Those left are the ones who cannot afford to leave or are refusing to. In the midst of this crisis, the multi-national forces in Iraq are considering what they can do. The Iraqi government has already seconded one thousand police and military forces to the area.

In the midst of this crisis, once again the only solution appears to be to overcome the violence by force. As people of peace, this may not be the solution we like; however, there appears to be no other option—those committing this violence will not talk to others, nor will they engage and look for other solutions. As far as they are concerned, they are killing the infidels who they believe are aligned to the West and the Coalition.

Meanwhile, back at church we simply keep loving and serving. We now have a clinic at the church with three doctors, three dentists, and a pharmacy. Everything we do is free, and most of our patients are not Christian, but Muslim. We have no plans to stop serving all people, regardless of religion. We will never stop loving. The threat keeps returning, the violence is real, but by the grace of God, we will keep going.

Rev. Canon Andrew White is president and CEO of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, chaplain of St. George's Church in Baghdad, Anglican/Episcopal chaplain of the International Zone Baghdad and senior advisor in Inter-Religious Affairs to the Prime Minister of Iraq. Over the past few years he has acted as a negotiator in many conflict situations, including the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the riots between Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria. In recent years, he has been awarded several prizes for his peace work, including the U.S. Cross of Valor, the Tanenbaum Peace Maker in Action Prize, the International Sternberg Prize, and the ICCJ Prize for Sustained Intellectual Contribution to Jewish-Christian Relations.