Evangelical Missionaries Rush to Win Iraq as Middle East Mission Base

Despite anti-American threats and possible violent eruption amidst an unstable Iraq, evangelical missionaries are still flocking to Iraq to prepare for an opportunity of a lifetime to preach to Muslims as Iraq becomes a free country on June 30.

"Iraq will become the center for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to Iran, Libya, throughout the Middle East," said Kyle Fisk, executive administrator of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, 4.5 million Christians strong in the United States.

Fisk continued to explain the strategic advantage of establishing mission bases in Iraq draw upon visions of U.S. President George W. Bush.

"President Bush said democracy will spread from Iraq to nearby countries," Fisk said. "A free Iraq also allows us to spread Jesus Christ's teachings even in nations where the laws keep us out."

Some missionaries feel they must preach to in the Middle East in order to obey God’s law which takes precedence above all else, human-mandated laws or obstacles.

"God and the president have given us an opportunity to bring Jesus Christ to the Middle East," said Tom Craig, an independent American missionary working in Iraq and Cyprus. "This is my commandment. No amount of danger will stop me."

Concerns for the new wave of missionaries coming to Iraq has stemmed from the recent killings of four missionaries from the Southern Baptist Convention Monday and two European humanitarians on Tuesday. These incidents have only fueled the urgency of the evangelical presence in Iraq.

“It is every Christian's requirement to share Jesus Christ's gospel with everyone on the planet, including every Muslim," said Richard D. Land, president of the public policy arm of the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. "If that causes anger and violence, it only shows we must speak more loudly."

"Yes, sharing Christ's love causes conflict. But the alternative is allowing people to go to hell," said Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs in Oklahoma.

To gain entry into the country, many Christian groups have packaged their mission agenda with humanitarian aid.

"Handing out food is a perfect time to talk about Jesus Christ with nonbelievers,?said Ghassan Thomas, an Iraqi pastor. He said that of the 60,000 boxes prepared by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan Purse, National Biblical Church Federation Church has distributed most of them to Muslims.

John Green, an expert on the religious right and professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, explains the fundamental mentality of most evangelicals that has allowed such boldness in their mission journey to Iraq.

"Many evangelicals feel war in Iraq is part of a broader religious mission,?said Green. “And the Bush campaign will do anything they can to mobilize that bloc. Evangelicals not only vote Republican, they produce lots of activists that stuff envelopes, make phone calls ?they are the grass roots."

Although the hype to preach to Muslims is growing strong, evangelical leaders are racing against time since a sovereign Iraq could declare laws that may block missionary access. They will still give it their all in spite of the time frame.

"Christians believe we have a six-month window in Iraq," Nettleton said. "Our attitude is: Let's do everything we can now."

Katherine T. Phan