“While the thought of an ‘Arab Spring’ might be empowering for some, for many believers in Iraq it leaves feelings of ambivalence when combined with the planned withdrawal of the American military by the end of this year,” the Florida Baptist Witness reports.
By Joni B. Hannigan
10/19/2011 Iraq (Florida Baptist Witness) – Traveling to Iraq in late September for a pastors’ conference and groundbreaking for a new cultural center in the Dohuk Province of Iraqi’s Kurdistan, I had a lot to ponder. In 2003, I had been invited to cover an effort by Southern Baptists to take food packages to Baghdad. That trip was diverted just days before when the hotel where the United Nations set up shop was bombed in August of 2003.
Looking calmly out at the lights of Baghdad as our plane headed north to Erbil, I wondered at the security issues there—and the believers I knew who might cautiously make their way to the conference where I was headed with a team from Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola.
I quickly learned not a lot has changed in Baghdad security-wise since 2003, according to a pair of pastors I interviewed. In fact, for evangelical Christians it’s been a mixed bag throughout Iraq.
While the thought of an “Arab Spring” might be empowering for some, for many believers in Iraq it leaves feelings of ambivalence when combined with the planned withdrawal of the American military by the end of this year.
Surprisingly, two pastors from Baghdad, said, however, they predict the withdrawal won’t have an impact at all. “As we speak in Baghdad, we don’t see their presence,” pastor *Sammy Thompson said. “The defect is in Iraqis, the defect is in our people.”
Amazingly, a Christian family from Mosul agreed. Not mincing words, a Christian mom blurted out that armed gangs of young men are roaming the streets and terrorizing people. One of her sons, 22, who had secreted his parents to Dohuk to meet someone at the conference, confirmed that these gangs prey in large part on Christians—but really don’t discriminate in doing mischief to anyone who happens to get in their way.
The problems in Baghdad have been complicated, Thompson said—especially for believers—in that with the new freedoms have come political infighting and a lack of structure for young men who are now unemployed. Prior to 2003 all of the men were drafted into the Army for 15 years, Thompson and others said. This provided young men with jobs and a pension afterwards.
Now with few jobs—a fluctuating infrastructure—and an even more inhospitable work environment for Christians, it’s nearly impossible for young men to gain employment, Thompson said.
Thompson said his evangelical church has grown from 30 to 300 since it began in 2003 amidst the “war of killing and bombing,” after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It now has a building with a cross and a name. But that visibility has come with a price. Islamic groups uncomfortable with the growth have left threatening phone calls and sent letters telling the pastor they will “slaughter him” and are watching his family. “We are always careful and we know somebody’s watching us,” he said.