You might think there's not alot to be thankful for in the Middle East, especially in war-torn Iraq. However, I just got this update from Canon Andrew White of the Anglican Church, often referred to as the "Vicar of Baghdad." You may remember CBN News did an interview with White several months ago where he eloquently described the plight of Iraqi Christians in the midst of war and terror. In this update, White describes the impact his church and flock had on one vistor from England. I think you would agree his experience epitomizes the spirit of Thanksgiving.
UPDATE FROM THE FOUNDATION FOR RELIEF AND RECONCILIATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST
"I have been to the Church of the future" Lord Hylton. It was a pleasant, warm, sunny day in Baghdad. The Iraqi army turned up to my trailer. They had come to take us to church. With me was my Iraqi director along with Lord Raymond Hylton, the chairman of our board. He had taken great risks to give up his comfortable seat in the House of Lords and travel with me for two weeks to the most dangerous place in the world. We were seated in the usual armoured vehicle going through the countless checkpoints until we were finally out of the IZ (international zone, formally known as the Green Zone). Once outside we were met by further Iraqi military, this time with soldiers in front and behind us in open backed vehicles with guns pointing in all directions. The sirens started screeching, we sped fast down the wrong side of the road and in no time at all we were in St George's Church compound. For me this was just another normal trip to church in the usual abnormal manner.
Lord Hylton was welcomed by some of the children like a long lost friend. He had spent time with them in London when they visited the House of Lords, so to them he was simply their friend. The service began as usual with the words from Communion: "Allah hu maana." The Lord is here. The people shout the response "his Spirit is with us." Wonderful singing in Arabic and Aramaic follows, the liturgy is sang as well in these languages, the sermon given by me and then the Eucharist. The services are always long, always filled with joy, yet at every meeting people will tell of the pain they have suffered that week. The church is bursting at the seams. Despite having church on Saturday and Sunday, with the encouragement that people only come once, the church is still filled to overflowing. There are not enough seats for everybody so they stand for several hours at a time.
Apart from the wonderful worship there is also an outstanding report from the Church's dental and medical clinic. Vast numbers of people are seen and treated
each day totally free of charge. The users of the service cannot believe they receive this treatment without payment. The vast majority of the patients are not even Christian. After the service we visit the clinic and view its outstanding facilities. We see the excellent pharmacy well-stocked with drugs thanks to International Health Partners in the UK. We hand over the latest medicines we have been given to bring. We speak to Sherahzade the pharmacist. She tells us how she knows she is doing the work of the Almighty and how she loves it.
We eventually return to the IZ in the same way we came. Later in the trailer Lord Hylton shows me an article he has written. It begins with a line I will never forget: "I have been to the Church of the future." Here in Baghdad in probably the most dangerous street in the world is the Church of the future? It is a church I love so much but I had never realised it was the Church of the future. What Lord Hylton was saying was so true. Here denominations do not matter. Here people from every denominational background came together to worship the living God; a people who have lost everything and realise that Jesus is everything. The whole methodology of Church is totally different. People do not just come to church to worship, it is their everything. They come here to get their food, clothes, blankets, health care, meet their friends. Here church is everything. I am reminded of the words of one of our Children "I learned here that Jesus was everything and he would provide all our needs and He has and He has made me happy again."
From Lord Hylton and a young person called Fulla I have learned this week what church is really about. It is about the presence of the Almighty in the most difficult circumstances. It is not about denominations or labels, it is about the Church Universal. The one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church being everywhere even in the most dangerous place in the world, serving and showing the love of Jesus. I realise that most people can't and never will come to this church of the future but so many people are part of it. Whether in Baghdad or Balham (my former parish) we are part of one Church. We could not do what we do if it were not for the love and support of the churches, individuals and one agency - the Mothers Union - that enables us to serve the broken hearted. The following day my other congregation meets as it does most weeks with the people of St George's. The reunion is always emotional. They hug and kiss each other. The children surround the other members of their church family. They put down their rifles and large guns. They hold hands and sing together. They are nearly all American soldiers but they see themselves as one together. They truly love each other. There is no differentiation that one appears to take from the other. If you speak to them both you will see that they both give and receive. The British Army turn up. Though not great in number here in Baghdad they have made a generous collection of money for St George's. It is given to Faiz our lay pastor. It will give to those who have lost everything. One of the little girls runs up to me "Abouna Abouna [Father Father] I have had the best day of my life." I ask her how and she points to the US Soldiers and says "they took us to play and swim in their pool, and gave us pizza and t-shirts and we sang together and it was the best day of our lives." I look at them all and suddenly I too see the Church of the future, it is one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
Canon Andrew P B White Anglican Chaplain to Iraq and President of theFRRME.