Serving the Lord in the Middle East
Earlier this year, we were privileged to have Canon Andrew White, more commonly known as the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, visiting UCB. Ruth O’Reilly-Smith caught up with him to hear his story, and to find out how we can pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
God spoke to you one day and He told you to study to become a vicar, and go into the Church.
I was running the cardiac arrest team at St Thomas’ hospital, London. It was going so well, and I was loving it. I had no case for a couple of hours; I was in the garden praying. And I was praying ‘Lord, thank you so much that I’m here at this place I’ve always wanted to train to’. Then I remembered I needed to say something: ‘what next, Lord?’ I went to Cambridge and I studied Christian theology. Then I started to change. I looked more at Judaism. In order to understand Judaism more, I had to go to Israel. I went to a seminary where they trained Rabbi’s, and I learnt so much there. I can remember a great lady prophesied over me one day in Jerusalem and said ‘Your life is going to be called to serve the Lord for peace in the Middle East’ and I thought that would be Israel, and it wasn’t just Israel, eventually I moved over the Jordan to the other side.
How long did you work in Iraq? Can you remember your first impressions of those early days?
Just over 15 years. A long time. I started off in Baghdad, working with the various religious leaders and political leaders. It was a time when the UK was very much involved in bombing Iraq, so I was trying to see how we could build up relationships and break down some of the tensions which were building. So I started working very much in the secular world there, but connected all the time to the religious and the political leaders.
You knew that what was happening in the Middle East was going to do so much damage in that area, that it could potentially lead to the rise of what eventually did become ISIS.
I actually knew the people who would eventually become the leaders of ISIS. I invited them to dinner one night, and said ‘Look, I want to get to know you more and when we meet, we eat. So come round and have dinner, and let’s talk’. They said ‘Yes, we’ll come to dinner but afterwards we’ll chop off your head.’ So I didn’t take it any further.
What is it like right now in that whole area, in the Middle East?
The whole region is in a considerable turmoil. People say ‘is there going to be a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis?’ And I say ‘I don’t think so, but the Lord is right there in the heart of everything that is happening. The Lord is making things change.'
I had so many of my loved ones killed, so many of our people. And all the time, I knew that the Lord was seeing us through.
One of my unofficial adopted daughters was with me one day, and people were saying ‘why is it you’re so happy, when you’re being bombed all the time? When your church people are being killed?’ And she said, ‘when you’ve lost everything, Jesus is all you have left’. So we lost everything, but not Jesus.
Now, we hear of the destruction of ISIS and the fall of their power across the Middle East, and in Iraq in particular. Is that what you’re hearing?
To a certain extent that’s happening. But the opposition is still there. There are still bad things happening, things can go wrong at any moment. The war is not over, the threat is not over, the fear is not over. But together, we can conquer.
We really know that, together with the wider church, our family can be restored. And we will survive.
What are your most pressing needs in terms of what we can pray for? How can we pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith right now?
The biggest thing we need is for you to pray that the Lord will provide all that we need. It costs thousands and thousands of dollars just to provide housing, food, education, and healthcare centres. My message to the wider church is that we are dealing with a really persecuted church, they are my brothers and sisters, but they are also yours. Will you come with us? Will you come on this journey?
You can find out more about Canon Andrew White at www.canonandrew.com.
Hear more inspiring interviews and stories by tuning into This is My Story with Ruth O’Reilly-Smith. Catch it every weekday morning from 9am on UCB 2.