Despite war and persecution, the church has always been a place of peace in turmoil for the Christians in Baghdad, Iraq. Baghdadi Christian and church lay leader Fadi (32) shares about growing up in the war-torn city, the blessings and challenges the church faces, and how your support can make a difference.
In 2003, the massive statue of Saddam Hussein toppled over in the middle of Baghdad and became an iconic start of a war that would last eight years. Just a few years later, the fight against Islamic extremist group ISIS began.
In the chaos that war and fighting has created, churches and church leaders became soft targets. Many church leaders were kidnapped or even killed, and churches were attacked. The event that caught the most attention was the bombing of the Our Lady of
Salvation Church in 2010 in which more than 50 innocent people were killed.
A childhood in turmoil
Maybe in another country, a child would be scared to see a tank with armed soldiers driving by. We didn’t even notice it anymore.
This is Fadi’s childhood: When he was 11, the war started; death and destruction were part of his everyday life. “Maybe in another country, a child would be scared to see a tank with armed soldiers driving by. We didn’t even notice it anymore. I saw corpses
on the street on multiple occasions. In the height of the war, there were more than 15 explosions in Baghdad each day, and I am not even talking about the shelling and the kidnappings; you get used to it.”
Fadi remembers one incident well. “By the grace of God,” he says, he escaped becoming a martyr. “A car was parked in front of our church, and it started to burn by itself. I was inside the church at that moment. When the police investigated the car, they
found a bomb inside the car that was intended for the church. Luckily, they could defuse it before it went off.”
It wasn’t only the violence itself that impacted Fadi's life; the war made daily life more difficult in general. With the continuous explosions and shelling, the city soon became a shadow of its former self. “They bombed the infrastructure - telecoms,
the airport, the schools, the universities,” Fadi remembers. “I remember I had to study for my exams using the light of a candle.”
Fadi lights candles and prays in a church in Ankawa, Erbil
Centre of hope
Throughout the turmoil in his youth and the challenges he faces now, there has always been one place he’d run to for comfort: the church. “The church is where I feel most comfortable. When I enter church I feel that I, Fadi, am close to God. I feel peace,
love, and safety. I feel exceptional awe. For me, life would lose its taste without the church.”
The simple fact that the church was open made it a centre of hope.
In the midst of ongoing explosions and shelling, kidnaps and even attacks on the church, the houses of God in Baghdad never closed their doors. For many other Christians as well, the church was a lifeline. “The people felt that there was a source of power
backing them up,” Fadi explains. “In the first place, of course, in a spiritual way: they had a place to pray when they felt in need. They prayed to God and knew God would not forsake them. And even in a physical sense the church was a shelter: if they
chase me out of my house, I can go to the church, and I will go and take shelter in the church. The simple fact that the church was open made it a centre of hope.”
After two decades of war, the situation in Baghdad is improving. “It is not what it used to be yet,” says Fadi, but there are fewer explosions and slowly facilities are coming back to the city. Fadi even feels that the relationships between different
faith groups are getting better. “Sectarianism is much less right now. We pray in our churches and our Muslim brothers pray in their mosques.”
While Fadi highlights the good relationships with his Muslim neighbours, unfortunately persecution and discrimination are still a big factor pressuring the daily lives of Christians in Baghdad. For instance, to be able to move safely around Baghdad as
a woman, you should wear a headscarf as Islam prescribes.
Another challenge for the church is the big emigration. According to World Watch Research estimations, more than 80% of Christians have left Iraq since 2003. This is a huge challenge for the church whose “pillars are the people”, according to Fadi.
All of this doesn’t mean that the church of Baghdad should close its doors. On the contrary, it might be needed more than ever. “There are still Christians here, the church is not empty. There are still activities in the church,” Fadi emphasizes.
As Christians, we are the salt of the earth. Our presence in this country is important.
Salt of the city
It is important to continue to support the church in this recovering phase, urges Fadi, because what war destroys in a minute take much longer to rebuild. And it is important for Iraq to keep a Christian presence. “As Christians, we are the salt of the
earth. We have an ancient Christianity here. Our presence in this country is important.”
The ongoing conflicts have had an impact on the financial abilities of the church as well. With your support our local partner helps the church in Baghdad to strengthen its position as a centre of hope by sponsoring discipleship and trauma training as
well as activities for youth and children. The churches are also helped in practical ways if needed, for instance with a new generator.
Fadi wants his daughter to have a future in Baghdad. Like many other Baghdadi Christians, he does what he can to add to that good future. He is an active member of his church and has just started an intense two-year trauma counselling course so that
he can help himself and others around him to deal with the trauma of war and violence.
The future is uncertain, but the Christians of Baghdad have a love for their city. They hope and pray for peace. “We hope, we wish, and we pray that this country might rise up again. Baghdad right now is the Baghdad that wants to get healed. She
wants to forget the past. She wants to change its features. We start to see reconstruction; we start to see change.”
GIVE NOW: HOPE FOR MIDDLE EAST
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