On a Sunday evening, a mighty hymn of praise rang out from a living room crowded with 50 people. The room hosts a house church in Baghdad. In the front of the room, revamped for this service, stands a small, simple wooden cross. The congregants stand up. Some raise their hands. Others look toward the ceiling and close their eyes.
The pastor of the house church is Jules V. Jules, 43, a building construction engineer by training. Jules, who has led the church for five years, tells those assembled that they can trust God and his promises in any situation. He says God is faithful even in times of persecution.
In February 2003, just before the war broke out, security forces arrested Jules and 15 other Christian men, throwing them into different prisons in Baghdad. Saddam's government prohibited group meetings in private homes and did not allow more than one church of any one denomination in a neighborhood.
Jules said he was one of seven prisoners locked in a dark, humid cell measuring seven-and-a-half by seven-and-a-half feet. After 30 days, in what he considers a miracle, he was suddenly released.
The country is still not safe for evangelists. In February an execution-style attack against American Baptist missionaries riding in a rented van killed one minister and wounded three others. They were in Iraq to help start Baghdad's first Baptist church.
Jules comes from a Presbyterian background, and the other members of this house church have Presbyterian and Catholic roots.
"It all started as a prayer group in 1995," Jules said. "We were 15 to 20 people who met every week in different homes … so the security police would not find us."
Jules said members recently signed a five-year lease on a building that can accommodate 300 to 400 people. They began worshiping there in February.
The Christian Alliance Church, which is Presbyterian in polity and has 400 members, has also started renting its own building in Baghdad. Members say they want to evangelize their neighbors.
That desire might be difficult to achieve. Religious rights advocates say the interim constitution states that laws may not contravene the tenets of Islam.
"We don't want to mix with politics," says Thomas Ghassan, pastor of the Christian Alliance Church. "We want our freedom and welcome the change in our country. Now it's time for all Christians to continue to evangelize among our Arabic and Muslim friends here."
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Other articles on Iraqi Christians from CT's Iraq archive include:
Iraq's Good Samaritans | This past summer, pundits predicted that Iraqis would resent Franklin Graham's ministry. What really happened when the workers showed up? (Oct. 24, 2003)
Daring to Dream Again | Chaldean Christians connect with other believers. (July 14, 2003)
Damping the Fuse in Iraq | A veteran peacemaker discusses how religion can help stave off religious conflict after Saddam. (July 09, 2003)
The Mother of All Liberties | Full religious freedom for Iraq is not negotiable. (June 2, 2003)
No Strings Attached | Christians seek to balance relief work and evangelism in Iraq. (May 20, 2003)
Mercy in Baghdad | North Americans endure bombing to chronicle the war's effects on civilians. (May 7, 2003)
Before the Refugee Dam Breaks | Agencies prepare to help up to 900,000 people in Iraq War. (April 24, 2003)
Apocalypse Again and Again | The Bible doesn't tell us when to go to war but how to live in a war-ridden world. (April 16, 2003)
As Baghdad Falls, Agencies Brace for Flood of Work | Aid and mine removal teams could move into Iraq within days. (April 11, 2003)
Mixing Iraq Aid and the Gospel Stirs Debate | Critics say proselytizing can reflect negatively on other relief groups and governments. (April 04, 2003)
Evangelicals Plan to Minister to Iraqis' Needs—Physical and Spiritual | Evangelism efforts will join relief work, say Southern Baptist Convention and Samaritan's Purse (March 27, 2003)
Relief Agencies Prepare to Help Iraqi Refugees | Meanwhile Christians in Baghdad fear the worst. (March 26, 2003)
Keeping Their Heads Down | Vital but dwindling Christians face many pressures. (Nov. 8, 2002)
Death by Sanctions | Iraqi Christians persevere in spite of Saddam Hussein and 10 years of an economic embargo. (Oct. 2, 2000)
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.