Andrew, the President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation for the Middle East (FRRME), has taken church services in the bomb-scarred remains of the church, which is surrounded by barbed wire fences as it has been since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
But just getting to church on a Sunday morning is a journey that very few Church of England ministers would make.
Wearing body armour, a helmet and his Cross of Nails from Coventry Cathedral, Andrew is escorted from the “Green Zone” to the Church by armed Special Forces. More often than not Andrew has seen with his own eyes the death and destruction with bodies littering the route. He can smell death.
As Andrew walks into the church, there is spontaneous applause from the thirteen hundred plus congregation, some of whom are Muslim, all happy to see him, he has not left them.
So many want to talk, or just touch him, as he walks to the pulpit to preach a message of hope and love. The Children nosily race into the Church every Sunday and throw their arms around “Abouna Andrew” Father.
Every one can sense the presence of God’s love in him and through him.
With the children leading the worship, it goes on for hours “a time when hearts and minds focus on God”, Andrew says, despite what is happening all around them.
As Andrew looks out over his flock, he knows that many are missing. Many members of the church have been kidnapped. With no money to pay the ransom demands Andrew is sure they will die.
He remembers Suad a mother of eight children and an active member of the Mother’s Union. Suad died less than two weeks ago after suffering severe burns to her body. When Andrew learned from her doctor that they were treating her with “paracetemol” he managed somehow to find some morphine. Suad’s last two days of life were pain free.
There are so many of his congregation missing. Five of St George’s lay workers were kidnapped in recent months and brutally murdered.
Andrew’s sermon and his presence are the only hope the Iraqi Christians have. Leaving the church takes longer than getting in. So many want to talk with him, they flock around him, children holding onto him. “Please do not leave us or forsake us”, they plead.
For the families now taking refuge in the church things are desperate. They have no food and no clean water.
They live in constant fear, praying during the day for night, and at night praying for daylight. At night time the sounds of rocket attacks and suicide bombers sounds ever closer. The children cry out.
Andrew who “celebrated his 43rd birthday on Friday, June 29, is appealing for the international Christian community to financially support his flock. In his latest email he writes: “I so wish that the Church would wake up to their need. People often ask what they can do to help and the fact is all we need is money to buy food. I do not need any more teddy bears, they are very nice but they provide no help for the children. I do not need any more Bibles, we have more than enough.
“I do not forget my people looking at the Bibles and saying, ‘We cannot eat Bibles’. I still need money for food and rent. People need help with their rent and what we can offer is very limited. There are still hundreds of Christians sleeping in the Churches because they have been made to leave their homes. Twenty-seven of our people remain kidnapped; we have no money to get them back, so they will be killed. I have paid all my own money we have no more left, we just hope and trust that God will provide and He does. So things remain awful but our people continue to praise God.
To find out how you can financially support our Iraqi brothers and sister log on to http://www.frrme.org/.
© 2007 ASSIST News Service, used with permission