The Kentucky Baptist volunteers said they believe the Dec. 4-18 project helped create additional opportunities for the gospel of Christ to be heard in the Muslim-dominated nation.
The team included eight members of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington as well as two people from Greenup Baptist Association. They were the first Southern Baptist volunteers to enter the region, populated by a mixture of Kurdish and Iraqi people.
“We blazed the trail for other teams,” said Asa Greear, Greenup’s director of missions. “We helped the missionaries see how much they could do with passing out Arabic-English New Testaments. In the debriefing, one guy made the comment, ‘I can do more up here than I realized.’”
Real estate agent Mike Moynihan called the trip “a gift to me from God.”
Moynihan, a member of Porter since 1997, said, “We proved to ourselves … that the Iraqi nation is a people who want to be free … spiritually. There is a terrorist element there, but the nation does not hate us.”
26,000 pounds of food
The group distributed 200 Bibles along with 650 bags of food weighing about 40 pounds each, according to Bill Henard, pastor of Porter Memorial.
The food came from boxed shipments donated by Baptist churches throughout the United States. The team repackaged food in smaller quantities to expand the number of families that could be helped.
The sugar, flour, lentils, beans, rice and other staples were enough to feed about 2,000 people for four to six weeks.
The team departed for the Middle East on Dec. 4, arriving in Jordan the next day. Thanks to lost luggage, volunteers had to wait there an extra day before going to central Iraq. From there, they drove north, arriving Dec. 9.
It took two days to repackage the food and another day to distribute it at four sites. Prior to that, the team and an American military officer met with four Kurdish tribal leaders to discuss the project.
“We went through the military because of the safety factor,” Henard said. “(We wondered) when we were giving out stuff, would we be attacked? But in all four groups, there wasn’t a single problem. The people were well-behaved, appreciative and helped unload the truck.”
“We are brothers”
The distribution began at a stadium temporarily housing people and continued at three tent villages scattered throughout the city.
At the stadium, Henard told the leader the food was a gift from the American people to help them in their struggle for freedom.
The chief replied, “We are not friends, we are brothers,” before embracing the pastor and kissing him on the cheek.
When Henard followed up with the offer of a New Testament, the leader put the Bible on his head and said, “If this is a gift from you, I must receive it and I must read it.”
In addition, most team members spent time in the local marketplace, shopping, talking and handing out Bibles.
They also worshiped at an Assyrian house church, where they served the Iraqi Christians their first Communion.
While in the marketplace, Greear said the men purchased Iraqi Kurdish outfits, hats and scarves and exchanged greetings despite the lack of an interpreter.
One merchant gave Greear a chest bump, a sign of friendship. Greear encouraged Baptist workers living there to send future volunteers to the same shops.
“There’s an openness,” Greear said. “If I could speak Arabic or Kurdish, I could have had several opportunities to share my faith.”
The trip bolstered the faith of other team members, including Guy Causey, principal of Bluegrass Baptist School.
“I was reminded that people, no matter where they are, need to know Christ as Savior,” Causey said. “When we told them we were Christians, one man said, ‘That’s OK, Jesus was a prophet of peace.’
“Who knows what seed was sown?” Causey added of the Bible distribution. “I have a firm belief that what we were able to give out (will impact people) because God’s Word won’t come back void.”
For college sophomore Josh Booth, who snapped more than 700 pictures of the trip, the miracles started before he left Lexington.
In November his 35mm camera was stolen. Then, two replacements didn’t work. But a church member who heard about his plight provided him enough money to purchase a digital camera.
“I felt like Job,” Booth said. “I was in better shape after I got robbed than before I got robbed.”
Booth was accustomed to telling others about Christ in one-on-one encounters, but he said that wasn’t possible in Iraq.
Still, he said, God opened doors for Bible distribution, especially after the capture of dictator Saddam Hussein on Dec. 14.
“We had people coming and asking for Bibles at our hotel,” Booth said. “I gave one guy a Bible, and he came back and said, ‘Can I have one for my brother?’”
A different in-flu-ence
John Newland, pastor of First Baptist Church of Grayson, had a different experience. Sick with the flu, he got separated from the team and had to remain in central Iraq.
While there, Newland got a firsthand look at the difficulties of reaching Iraq with the gospel. He met one lay minister imprisoned briefly last February for distributing tapes of evangelical radio broadcasts.
“I feel I’ve gained a better understanding of Arab culture, what it will take to reach them and how to pray for (Southern Baptist) personnel,” Newland said. “We need to pray for their wisdom and discernment—to know when it’s right to witness.”
The Iraqi people are so beautiful, Moynihan said, that it hurts him to know that many of them are bound for hell because they don’t believe in Jesus Christ.
“We need to go back,” said Moynihan, who is anxious to speak to other Kentucky Baptists about his experiences. “I’d go back tomorrow.”
Western Recorder issue date: Jan. 20, 2004