Story Advocacy | 12 September 2022
The church in Baghdad as a Center of Hope: “The church is always open”

 

 
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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 shares how your support can make a difference.

We have all seen the famous images of the huge Saddam Hussein statue being toppled in the middle of Baghdad in 2003. It was the iconic start of a war that would last eight years, followed by the war on the Islamic Extremists of ISIS just a few years later.

In the chaos that the war 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


This is the décor in which Fadi grew up. He was only 11 when 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 then 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 detonate it before it went off.”

It wasn’t only the violence itself that impacted Fadi's life, the consequences of 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.”

It is difficult for Fadi to give words to what growing up in war did to him. Maybe the pain of the memories is most tangible in the emotions he gets being confronted with violence elsewhere: “Now, with the war that is happening between Ukraine and Russia, we hear airstrikes and military tanks on television; it triggers our memory. We remember the sound of airplanes flying over our heads. Here in Iraq, we sympathize a lot with the Ukrainians: we feel their pain because we have been through the same.”


Center 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.”

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. Not only for Fadi, for many Christians 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 center of hope.”

 

Post-war Baghdad


After two decades of war, the situation in Baghdad is improving. “It not what it used to be yet,” says Fadi, but explosions get less 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 neighbors, unfortunately not everyone is treating the Christians with the same respect. Persecution and discrimination are still a big factor pressuring the Christians’ daily life in Baghdad. For instance, to be able to move safely around Baghdad as a woman, you should wear a headscarf as Islam prescribes[1].

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 make the church of Baghdad 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.

 

Salt of the city


It is important to continue to support the church in this recovering phase says Fadi. Because what war destroys in a minute takes 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 center 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.

 

Future


Fadi wants his daughter to have a future in Baghdad as well. But Fadi, like many other Baghdadi Christians, 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.”