Iraqi Churches Thrive Despite Escalating Violence

In the midst of the turmoil and violence, the church of Jesus Christ in Iraq is vibrant and alive, a Southern Baptist worker said in a recent report published Friday. While attacks by insurgents in the war-torn nation has escalated as its first national elections approaches, Southern Baptists say that the Gospel is being proclaimed and new believers are following the Messiah, gathering for fellowship and discipleship across this land.

"American foreign policy and military might has opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," the worker said, as reported by the Baptist Press. "God is moving here, and Southern Baptists are responding."

According to BP, people are coming to Christ across Iraq. "They often say they are sick of religion. What they crave is a relationship with God, and they find that in Jesus," the news agency reported. "In a land known for tensions between ethnic groups, Christians gathering for prayer reflect the diversity of Iraq. They include Iraqi Arabs, Kurds, Persians, Assyrians and Chaldeans. "

Out of a population of 24.2 million, Christians constitute only three percent for a total number of about 800,000 people in Iraq. They belong to different denominations and rites such as the Assyrian-Nestorian Church, the Syriac-Catholic Church, the Syriac-Orthodox Church; the Armenian Orthodox Church has some members, the Catholic Church about 260,000, 70% following the Chaldean rite.

The largest Christian communities are found in Baghdad and some northern cities like Kirkuk, Irbil, and Mosul (the ancient Ninevah).

"Here in this biblical land, the dust of time is everywhere. It swirls about you," the Southern Baptist worker stated. "Babylon, Ninevah and Ur are ruins, little more than toppled stone and fragments, historical memory. But Medes and Persians, Assyrians and Chaldeans are more than ancient words from an old book. They are very much alive. They are words people use to introduce themselves. It is who they are, their heritage. To walk among them is to walk among living history."

Iraqi Christians can proudly claim a two thousand year presence in Iraq going back to the times of Thomas the Apostle, who many consider to be the father of Christianity in the country. 

"Out of this cultural mix came Abraham, framing his relationship with God, fathering a nation and the lineage of Christ, which is our heritage, too. To be here is to walk through our history, to walk on hallowed ground," the worker added.

Last Monday, during a meeting with Pope John Paul II, Iraq’s Minister of Foreign Affairs vowed that the nation would protect religious freedom, particularly the Iraqi Christian community. According to a Vatican spokesman, the situation in Iraq and the Middle East in general was examined in the course of the conversations.