You’ve probably heard the recent news about the militant Islamic group ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) moving through and taking over cities in Northern Iraq. Wednesday they moved into Mosul and are reportedly advancing on other Iraqi cities. By all accounts, they are more militant and extreme than Al-Qaida. The leadership of ISIS believes that Al-Qaida’s actions have not gone far enough. They are driven by a desire to unite the Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria in an Islamic state. ISIS is forcefully taking territory, robbing banks and reportedly employing suicide bombers along with ritual beheadings to establish their dominance in the area. Amidst all this violence and fear and at now at the front lines of ISIS’s movement is where this week’s Saint of the Week lives and serves.
This week’s saint is Canon Andrew White.
Andrew was born in 1964 and grew up around Bexley, south-east of London. He grew up in a very religious household along with getting to know the local Anglican priest. Andrew studied in London to become an Operating Department Practitioner and worked on the cardiac arrest team in 1985. After reaching a point in his life where he felt he had achieved much of what he had already planned to do in life, he began to consider what might come next. It was at that point he decided to pursue priesthood in the Anglican church. He studied first at Cambridge but would also spend time at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to learn more about Islam and Judaism. Andrew would eventually be ordained as a priest in 1990. In 1998 Andrew began serving at Coventry Cathedral. While there he would become the Director of International Ministry and began leading the International Centre for Reconciliation.
In 2005, Andrew left his position as the Director of International Ministry and moved to Baghdad to become an Anglican Chaplain. In Baghdad he started serving as vicar of St George’s Church which lies just outside the infamous Green (or International) Zone. St. George’s is the only remaining Anglican church in Baghdad and Andrew continued his reconciliation work by starting the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East in 2005. As stated on their website, this organization works to provide “a spiritual home, medical care and humanitarian relief as well as promoting reconciliation amongst different religious groups.” While serving in Baghdad, Andrew has been no stranger to the risks of serving in such a troubled area. According to Andrew, he has been hijacked, kidnapped, locked up, held at gunpoint along with many of his staff having been kidnapped or killed.
Today I wanted to focus on Andrew White because he is still actively serving in Baghdad with ISIS violently moving through Iraq. According to one article, the 2000 year old Christian population in Iraq is being devastated. When ISIS took over the northern city of Mosul Andrew posted this plea on his blog:
Most of our people come from Nineveh [Mosul] and still see that as their home. It is there that they return to regularly. Many Christian’s fled from back to Nineveh from Baghdad, as things got so bad there. Now the Christian centre of Iraq has been totally ransacked. The tanks are moving into the Christian villages destroying them and causing total carnage. The ISIS militants are now moving towards Kirkuk, major areas to the Oil fields that provide the lifeblood of Iraq. We are faced with total war that all the Iraqi military have now retreated from.
People have fled in their hundreds of thousands to Kurdistan still in Iraq for safety. The Kurds have even closed the border, preventing entry of the masses. The crisis is so huge it is almost impossible to consider what is really happening.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
With the breaking news this week, the situation for our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq is dire and dangerous. I bring you the story of Andrew White to highlight an often forgotten part of our Christian family. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing the Middle East as completely Islamic and forget that there are Christian communities there who are literally fighting for their lives. If you’re interested in helping financially, there are Paypal links on Andrew’s blog along with an address where checks can be sent. As always, prayers and and sharing of Andrew’s story can go a long way to help as well.
I’ll close this post with a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. This is a prayer for a person in trouble or bereavement. Say this prayer along with me now and throughout the week so that we might be mindful of our brothers and sisters who are suffering under real persecution and fear for their lives.
O merciful Father, who taught us in your holy Word that you would not willingly afflict us, look with pity upon the sorrows of our Christian brothers and sisters in Baghdad and surrounding areas for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their soul with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here’s a few photos from the website for the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East showing the community there.
More Information & References:
Wikipedia – Andrew White
The Spectator – A brave man in Iraq Needs your help
The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East – Canon Andrew’s Blog
First Things – The Vicar of Baghdad
Vimeo.com – The Vicar of Baghdad documentary
Revival Magazine – Interview with Canon Andrew White