Sweet. Apparently recently-arriving evangelical Christians are causing a stir in Iraq, even among other Christians.
BAGHDAD -- With arms outstretched, the congregation at National Evangelical Baptist Church belted out a praise hymn backed up by drums, electric guitar and keyboard. In the corner, slide images of Jesus filled a large screen. A simple white cross of wood adorned the stage, and worshipers sprinkled the pastor's Bible-based sermon with approving shouts of "Ameen!"
National is Iraq's first Baptist congregation and one of at least seven new Christian evangelical churches established in Baghdad in the past two years. Its Sunday afternoon service, in a building behind a house on a quiet street, draws a couple of hundred worshipers who like the lively music and focus on the Bible.
"I'm thirsty for this kind of church," Suhaila Tawfik, a veterinarian who was raised Catholic, said at a recent service. "I want to go deep in understanding the Bible."
Sounds great to me! But some more "traditional" -- in the Iraqi sense -- Christians don't seem happy.
Some Iraqi Christians expressed fear that the evangelicals would undermine Christian-Muslim harmony here, which rests on a long-standing, tacit agreement not to proselytize each other. "There is an informal agreement that says we have nothing to do with your religion and faith," said Yonadam Kanna, one of six Christians elected to Iraq's parliament. "We are brothers but we don't interfere in your religion."
[Patriarch Emmanuel] Delly [head of the Eastern rite Chaldean Catholic Church, Iraq's largest Christian community] said that "even if a Muslim comes to me and said, 'I want to be Christian,' I would not accept. I would tell him to go back and try to be a good Muslim and God will accept you." Trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, he added, "is not acceptable."
If you don't like it, take it up with God.
And it looks like Christianity is thriving elsewhere in the Middle East as well.
Iraq's new churches are part of Christian evangelicalism's growing presence in several Middle Eastern countries, experts say. In neighboring Jordan, for example, "the indigenous evangelical presence is growing and thriving," said Todd M. Johnson, a scholar of global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.
Nabeeh Abbassi, president of the Jordan Baptist Convention, said in an interview in Amman that there are about 10,000 evangelicals worshiping at 50 churches in Jordan. They include 20 Baptist churches with a combined regular Sunday attendance of 5,000, he added. The organization also operates the Baptist School of Amman, where 40 percent of the student body is Muslim.
While most evangelicals in Jordan come from traditional Christian denominations, Abbassi said, "we're seeing more and more Muslim conversions, not less than 500 a year" over the past 10 years.
It's a start. Let me echo Jesus' own exhortation on evangelism:
When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
(HT: Rob Parks)