The History of the Reformed Church in Iraq
Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in the Middle East spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert. Iraq shares borders with Jordan to the west, Syria to the northwest, Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to the south. Iraq has a narrow section of coastline on the northern Persian Gulf. The capital city, Baghdad, is in the center-west of the country. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run through the centre of Iraq, flowing from north to south. These provide Iraq with agriculturally capable land and contrast with the steppe and desert landscape that covers most of Western Asia. Beginning with the invasion in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein, a multinational coalition of forces, mainly American and British, occupied Iraq. The occupation ended when sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqi Interim Government June 2004. A new Constitution of Iraq has since been approved by referendum and a new Government of Iraq has been elected.
Sadly, Iraq is still very unstable. A predominantly pro-Iranian Shiite government controls the country. Violent rivalry between Sunni and Shiite radicals continues the bloodshed and suffering that began with the Iraq war more than ten years ago. Iraqi churches continue to be attacked and the number of remaining Iraqi Christians dwindles, but they keep shining the light of the Gospel. About 65 percent of Christians have already left the country and more seek to leave after recent violence. Many churches no longer have Sunday services, but the evangelical church in Baghdad still maintains a strong witness despite greatly reduced numbers.
MERF works very closely with the remaining three Reformed congregations in Iraq—Kirkuk, Baghdad, and Basra. MERF has been able to help them with temporary pastoral care from Egypt. For the first time the congregation in Basra has an Iraqi pastor. He was supported by MERF to prepare for the ministry at the Presbyterian Theological College in Cairo. Other promising Iraqi young men are being prepared for the Gospel ministry. In the meantime, MERF provides diaconal aid to needy Iraqi families to help them get established in self-supporting jobs. Also, training is being provided for elders, deacons, lay evangelists and others.
The church in Baghdad continues to minister throughout the week with worship services, Bible classes for children and youth, and women's meetings. Despite many challenges and delays, Baghdad Church has opened the first stage of the Children's Center project: The Good Shepherd Kindergarten for children under six years of age. Orphans are 20 percent of the enrollment. Their expenses are covered by the fees paid for the other children. The second stage of the project is to renovate the other building on the property next year. By God's grace, services and activities also continue in the smaller congregations in Kirkuk and Basra.
The Arabic radio ministry also reaches Iraq and spreads the Word of God there. One listener wrote recently,
These radio programs have caused me to believe in Jesus Christ. Each one has been a blessing and has increased my faith. I listen to your programs all the time and make notes of the important things that you share. I use these notes in personal study and when I share with others.
Pray for Christians in Iraq to keep shining the love of Christ, despite violence targeted against them.
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