Iraq: Christians Fleeing Country in War's Wake
October 18, 2006 Baghdad, Iraq .... [Mark A. Kellner/ANN]
Civil unrest in Iraq--home to the cities of Nineveh, ancient Babylon, Ur of the Chaldees, and even the Biblical Garden of Eden--is taking a toll on the already-small Christian community. Many who can leave the country, including Seventh-day Adventist Christians, are continuing to do so in the face of daily terrorism.
"Yes, some are still leaving [Iraq] from our church," said Pastor Basim Fargo, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Iraq. "Of course, those who are leaving are [educated], well-to-do; those who are staying are poor people who cannot afford to leave."
Fargo said there are now approximately 75 Seventh-day Adventist church members in Iraq, down from around 150 before the 2003 invasion and subsequent domestic disturbances. He spoke by telephone with Adventist News Network in the wake of an Oct. 17 New York Times report documenting a general departure of Christians from Iraq.
According to that report, the total number of Christians in Iraq is unclear: a 1987 census--the last conducted--listed 1.4 million Christians; today, estimates range between 600,000 and 800,000. Whatever the number, Iraq's Christians are feeling uncertainty in the wake of the war and from external factors, such as the recent controversial remarks of the Roman Catholic pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, about Islam.
"The declaration of the Pope has caused a bit of opposition and an unhappy situation [for Christians] with the people in the country," Fargo said. "This ignited a fire in the country. Most people go by tradition [in their religion]. When things like this happen, it affects them very badly," he added, speaking of Muslim believers.
Such effects roll over to the Christian community, he said: "Some people can stand it, some cannot, so they have to leave the country looking for their safety."
"The situation that is in the country will not allow us to practice our services freely. It is not safe to go [out] from home," he said. "We are meeting every Sabbath, but it is very difficult. We expect an explosion any time during the day."
Fargo said Iraqis hope for better times ahead.
"We hope that in the near future, things will be better, at least what we hear from the news, we expect that in the coming months things are going to improve. But no one knows except God," he said.
In a comment addressed to Adventists worldwide, he said, "We ask that you keep us in your prayers, [fellow] believers around the world."
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