By Peggy Eastman
For the Rev. Canon Andrew White, in his work as chaplain of St. George’s Anglican Church of Baghdad, the flesh may be weak but the spirit remains strong.
“I have to be honest with you. I’ve never felt overwhelmed. I know I’m doing what I was made to do and what I was created to do,” White said during a forum at All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on September 14. “The Lord is here, and he has never left us, even in our time of great trial.”
Even in the face of violence, persecution and killings perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “I’ve never felt discouraged,” he told TLC, because of his deep trust in God. “I never doubt him,” White said. “I always love him and I know he loves me.”
Asked by TLC for his perspective on President Obama’s national address four days earlier, White said: “Speeches are speeches. We only have hope when things begin to change. At the moment nothing has changed. The only hope we have is what we can do for our people. Just dropping bombs from the sky doesn’t bring us hope.”
White has led St. George’s, the only Anglican Church in Iraq, since 1998; at its peak the church has served 6,000 Iraqis each week. All Saints has continued to support White, known as the vicar of Baghdad, and the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East — of which he is president — through its Global Outreach Program. Speaking during his second visit to All Saints in recent years, he described the escalating challenge of emergency relief work to help Christian refugees who have fled their villages in terror of ISIS.
It takes $100,000 per week to provide basic necessities for displaced people — food, wheelchairs (for many disabled people), blankets, mattresses, clothes, water, cradles, and basic medical care, said White, who has worked as an anesthesiologist. This sum does not cover the cost of running St. George’s. Many Christians who have left their villages are living on the streets. White also distributes money to indigenous Christian churches to support their leaders.
“What our people have been through in the last few weeks cannot really be understood or spoken,” White said, describing the killings and massacres of Christians, including children, by Muslim extremists.
“Our people have suffered so greatly. … To have your children killed is the most terrible,” he said.
“Unless we share in the suffering of Christ we cannot share in the glory of Christ,” he said, after citing Romans 8:17. “We [in Iraq] have shared in the suffering of Christ and in the Glory of Christ.”
What can the United States do as a nation to help in the face of atrocities by ISIS? “What America does best is it loves people; it stands with the broken,” he said. “Give us your prayers and your money, that’s all.”
During a sermon at All Saints, White stressed that in addition to prayer, Iraqi Christians need protection, provisions, perseverance, and peace. And he said that love is the force that can transform anger and bitterness.
“Jesus loves us and we love everyone, even our enemies,” he said. “How can we meet with those who hate us? I say to them, ‘Would you like to come for dinner?’ In Iraq, when you are invited for dinner, you go.”
White has written several books, including Father Forgive: Reflections on Peacemaking (Monarch, 2013).
Sarah A.K. Ahmed, a dentist and oral surgeon who is Iraq director of operations for the foundation, also spoke at All Saints. She noted that in July people began to stream out of Mosul, a home to Iraqi Christians for 2,000 years. These Christians had lived alongside Muslims until the ISIS threat.
“There’s no order,” Ahmed said. “There were thousands and thousands of people and kids … they had nothing. It was filthy, it was hot, there was no water, people were on the streets. From that day on we started to take care of all those Christians who had left.”
She added: “The stories I heard were horrible. They were sleeping on the ground, on rocks. Some of the women were pregnant.” But like White, Ahmed said she has not felt overwhelmed or discouraged even in the face of such great need. “We customized ourselves to the situation. It’s normal … this is how it is.”
Amid all his other challenges, White lives with multiple sclerosis. Asked at the All Saints forum what prayer he would wish for himself, White responded concisely: “That I can keep going.”