Missionary Tales from the Iraqi Front
With Saddam Hussein's government newly deposed, you might expect Iraq's approximately 300,000 Christians to be celebrating. But while nearly all expressed their relief over Easter that most of the fighting seems to be over, many fear an Islamic takeover of the government once the Americans and British withdraw. Hussein's government, while cruel and despotic, tolerated the church for many years; yet just last year, Hussein began passing laws against Christians in favor of Islam, and Christians there sounded the alarm. The debate over Islam's relationship to a post-war government is already underway.
Meanwhile, British Christian organizations such as the Barnabas Fund are planning to distribute humanitarian relief through the Iraqi churches once the fighting stops, while some American Christian agencies have commissioned missionaries to bring badly-needed aid to Iraqis. It's a plan that's come under heavy fire from American Muslims, worried that Christians will take advantage of the security brought by Anglo-American military occupation to proselytize Muslims.
This isn't the first time Iraq has been occupied by Western forces. Basra, the southern Iraqi city that fell to British forces a few weeks ago, was also the port of entry to British forces in 1915. Britain, responding to the Arabs' appeal for "liberation" from the Ottoman Empire, drove the Turks out to establish the kingdom of Iraq. Yet British involvement there goes back even further, particularly with the native Assyrian (or Nestorian) church, today the largest Iraqi church outside the Chaldean Catholics. And it's a story Christians in the West need to hear.
While Roman Catholic missionaries began laboring among Assyrian Christians in the thirteenth century, the Church ...