Relief Groups Struggle to Aid Churches

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Eight years into the United Nations' economic sanctions against Iraq, the country's one million Christians are facing increasing hardships along with the 15 million Muslim majority.

"The church suffers right along with the rest of the population," says Len Rodgers, president of Venture Middle East, one of the handful of Christian relief-and-development agencies that has been trying to alleviate hardship since sanctions crippled Iraq's economy and health-care system. Rodgers's group alone has sent $2 million worth of medicines and pharmaceuticals in the past four years, and an assessment team recently tried to determine what needs are most critical in the future.

Christians in Iraq worship in the ancient Chaldean and Assyrian churches; evangelicals number only a few thousand in five congregations in the cities of Baghdad, Mosul, Karkuk, and Basra. Sanctions have driven many Christians to flee Iraq, where a month's salary for a government worker now buys only a carton of eggs. In neighboring Jordan, churches hold Iraqi services each week with hundreds of expatriates in attendance.

Organizers of the Middle East Council of Churches and the U.S.-based Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding are planning a clergy conference in Iraq to try to help Christians. Two similar conferences have been held in the past five years (CT, July 14, 1997, p. 69) with full cooperation from Iraq's Ministry of Religious Affairs.

While the UN maintains pressure for sanctions so Iraq will allow weapons inspections, Rodgers is focusing on the people. "We're trying not to look at politics but remember the 5,000 children every month who are dying of preventable diseases," he says.

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