Iraq Ministry Surge
The World Evangelical Alliance and United Bible Societies are moving forward with plans to launch branches in Iraq sometime within the next year. Aglow International already has one women's fellowship started and one forming.
Bible Society in Iraq: Reestablishing a presence
"Since 2003 the United Bible Societies has been interested in reestablishing its presence in Iraq," said Mike Bassous, general secretary of the Bible Society in Lebanon.
The Bible Society operates an Iraqi branch near Baghdad. The office was officially closed in 1979, although it was permitted to import limited quantities of Scripture. The Bible Society reopened the office and warehouse in 2003 with two full-time staff members, but due to the unrest in Baghdad, Bassous said, "the operation is normal, but very sensitive."
Nabil Omeish, program coordinator for the Iraqi Bible Society, characterizes the Kurdistan Regional Government as kind and generous. The application process took a year, during which the Kurdistani government accepted 20,000 Bible Society calendars in Kurdishand compensated the Bible Society for the production cost. Omeish told the story of another connection in Kurdistan: A Christian financier gave the Baghdad Bible Society $15,000 for a generator.
Omeish received official permission in July to open a branch and is now shopping for office space in Erbil, where he said property values are climbing.
The United Bible Societies expects the new branch in the more secure north of Iraq to be able to have more stability than the office in Baghdad. For a while, the Erbil office will be under the administration of the Lebanese Bible Society. Omeish will concentrate primarily on reaching Kurds. In addition to more funds, he and Bassous are looking for ethnic Kurdish staff for the new Bible Society.
Iraqi Evangelical Alliance: 'Part of a large (not just American) family'
Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), said he would not be surprised to see Iraqi evangelicals also choose Kurdistan as the initial location for an Iraqi Evangelical Alliance.
The WEA has had representatives assess the Iraqi evangelical scene and discuss forming a coalition based on a statement of faith and a desire to work together.
"We don't want one narrow slice of evangelicalism becoming the evangelical alliance in the country. We actually do research to make sure it is the broadest representation of evangelicals possible at any given time," he said.
"I think in the midst of the crisis in this situation, there is this sense that we need to work together," said Tunnicliffe. "We've got to overlook some of our nuances in terms of ecclesiology, but we have a core beliefs that we hold in common and it's better that we're together in this and that we face it."
Evangelical Iraqi groups have begun to discuss the details of an Iraqi Evangelical Alliance, which Tunnicliffe expects will be launched within 12 months. Organizations such as churches, denominations, or parachurch ministries in Iraq that want to join will go through an application process with the WEA. Affiliates of the umbrella organization do not offer membership to individuals.
Initially, WEA workers are working simply to help Iraqi evangelical Christians identify each other. "A sense of unity is a great spiritual benefit," said Tunnicliffe. An evangelical alliance "gives them greater standing with the government, but it also gives them the sense that they're not alone, that they're a part of a large family around the world," he said.