Two leading evangelical Christian relief and missionary organizations say they have teams of workers poised to enter Iraq to address the physical and spiritual needs of its large Muslim population.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and the Rev. Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse said Tuesday that workers are near the Iraq border in Jordan and are ready to go in as soon as it is safe. The relief and missionary work is certain to be closely watched because both Graham and the Southern Baptist Convention have been at the heart of controversial evangelical denunciations of Islam, the world's second-largest religion.

Both organizations said their priority will be to provide food, shelter, and other needs to Iraqis ravaged by recent war and years of neglect. But if the situation presents itself, they will also share their Christian faith in a country that's estimated to be 97 percent Muslim and about 1 percent Christian.

"We go where we have the opportunity to meet needs," said Ken Isaacs, international director of projects for Samaritan's Purse, located in Boone, N.C. "We do not deny the name of Christ. We believe in sharing him in deed and in word. We'll be who we are."

Mark Kelly, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists' International Mission Board, said $250,000 has already been spent to provide for immediate needs, such as blankets and baby formula. Much more will follow, along with a more overt spiritual emphasis.

"Conversations about spiritual things will come about as people ask about our faith," said Kelly, based in Richmond, Va. "It's not going to be like what you might see in other countries, where there's a preaching service held outside clinics and things like that." ...

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