Vicar Of Baghdad

Posted by Craig Borlase on 19 November 2014

What’s the point of singing when Islamic State militants are at your door?

Canon Andrew White - AKA the Vicar of Baghdad - is a visible face and familiar voice within the UK media. Ever since he started working in Baghdad in 1998, he has offered a unique perspective on life in one of the world’s most turbulent countries. And because of that, his own life is in danger.

The swift rise and shocking brutality of Islamic State militants in Northern Iraq recently forced Canon Andrew to leave his 6,500 strong church and take refuge in Jerusalem. Exile does not suit him.

“I would go back tomorrow if I could,” he says. “Of course I would. They’re my people. You never want to leave your people, but the chance of me surviving is very remote. My close friends keep telling me I can do more for them alive than dead.”

It’s clear that there’s a vast difference between the safety of our lives in the West and the danger faced by the congregation he has been forced to leave behind. What Christians in Iraq, and throughout the Middle East, face is so far removed from our own experience that it can seem as though they are a breed apart, as if their daily challenges of faith are so different to ours that we can’t really comprehend it. Not so, says Canon Andrew, who remains clear on the lessons that Christians in the UK can learn from Christians in Baghdad.

“When you have nothing - as our people have got nothing - then Jesus is all you’ve got.”

That idea of people relying so heavily on Jesus sounds good, doesn’t it? Too often we find that it is far harder than it ought to be to persuade people to make space for God. But with our cluttered lives, so full of earning and spending and comparing and fretting, what hope have we got of having nothing and seeing Jesus as the sole answer?

Hope is not lost, he says. We can learn to rely on God just as much as those who live in fear of Islamic State militants. “I tell people not to take care but to take risks. It has to be an ongoing process, and it is difficult, not something people gain overnight.

“And I tell people to sing. It’s absolutely key. When you have nothing you have to praise God. It’s the praising of God that keeps us going. I don’t think I’ve ever given a talk without singing. I always sing. I sing because our people sing.”

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