2003 Believing in Baghdad

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Faith helps soldiers handle war’s agonies

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Finding peace in war
Sergeant James Crowell from Sayre, Pa., reads his Bible in his tent at the end of a long day. Photo by Jim Veneman
BAGHDAD, Iraq (BP)--You don't have to look very far to get a good idea of what Baghdad is like today. Bombed out, burned and looted buildings still line the neighborhoods. Thick, white chalky dust coats everything and sticks in the back of your throat and gets under your fingernails. To an unknowing observer, this might look like a godless place. But for others, Baghdad has become a symbol of what God can and will do for the people of Iraq. It is this faith, for example, that gives hope to the troops that eventually they will head home.
      There are no foxholes in this city of 5 million people. Ask any soldier and they'll quickly tell you there's no defined front line for the war they continue to fight. Instead, there are mortar attacks to listen for, IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to avoid and a good chance that the car stopped in traffic in front of you could very well be an ambush. Body armor is a common part of the uniform here.

Chaplains keep the faith amid soldiers on war’s front lines

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Talking about war
Chaplain (Col.) Doug Carver, a Southern Baptist chaplain stationed out of Germany, shares some of his experiences in the field during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by Jim Veneman
BAGHDAD, Iraq (BP)--The toughest thing Chaplain (Col.) Doug Carver has faced since arriving in Baghdad less than a year ago was seeing the dead body of a soldier he had just shaken hands with less than 30 minutes before. The sight of 18 black body bags, victims of a recent Chinook helicopter crash, being loaded onto a C-130 is still fresh in the mind of Chaplain Major Dan Wackerhagen. Chaplain (Cap.) Eddie Cook will never forget holding a young soldier from his battalion as he died from a mortal wound to the head, the first death for his unit.
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Praying in faith
Chaplain Dan Wackerhagen bows his head in prayer during a service at Steel Base Memorial Chapel at Baghdad International Airport. Photo by Jim Veneman

      These chaplains, like the men and women they minister to, have had to face death head-on since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in late March. It is hard and sometimes frightening but these Southern Baptist seminary graduates all credit God for getting them through.

      "You never know Jesus until He's all you've got," said Carver, the highest-ranking chaplain currently in Iraq, stationed at the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Baghdad. He oversees more than 350 chaplains and 350 chaplain assistants throughout the country. "I haven't had my wife here, my children; just an army cot in a corner," he reflected. "Finding that quiet place has been hard."
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Saving grace
Chaplain Eddie Cook reads through a copy of Oliver North's latest release, "Jericho Sanction." Cook got the copy in the mail before heading to a makeshift gym for a workout. He decided to go back to his room to read. Minutes later, an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) hurled into the side of the room where he would have been exercising. Photo by Jim Veneman

      Along the way, numerous challenges have arisen. For Carver, putting the chemical gear on every time there was a missile attack threat in the early days of the war was almost claustrophobic.
      "You're sitting in your bunker elbow to elbow with soldiers who are looking to you for strength," Carver said. "I was telling my wife how suiting up was starting to get to me, and she says, 'I'm going to pray that when you put it on that God will sing to you - try to remember [the hymn] God's Garden.' The next attack we had, I'm running to get my gear on and I hear the words to the hymn 'In the Garden' in my mind. I felt peace the entire time."

Fearless Iraqi pastor enjoys freedom of sharing the Gospel

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Media ministry for Iraq
Maher Mageed looks through the large collection of master recordings of Christian programs he has taped for distribution to his Iraqi neighbors. Photo by Jim Veneman
BAGHDAD, Iraq (BP)--It would be hard to imagine a time that Maher hasn't smiled. Though short in stature, the Madian-born Iraqi lights up a room, whether it's at the hospital where he helps translate for Iraqi patients, or in his church which has now held services for 10 weeks in a row.
      There was a low point in his life. It came as he was being interrogated in Saddam Hussein's military intelligence prison - the most feared prison in all of Iraq. As he heard stories of other prisoners there who had been severely tortured by the same men who were questioning him, he wondered whether he would ever see home again.
      Maher Abdul Mageed was born into the Madian culture, a sect that can be traced back to the original followers of John the Baptist. Though 90 percent of John the Baptist's followers turned to Jesus Christ after their leader's death, some did not, choosing instead to worship John, a religion that has been passed down for generations.
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Reading the Word
An Iraqi man reads an Arabic version of the Bible during a worship service held at St. George's Memorial Church. Photo by Jim Veneman

      Maher accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1994 after first hearing the Gospel from his brother who had left Iraq for another country. Within a year, Maher felt called by God into ministry, though there was no schooling in evangelism he could obtain in Iraq. Under Saddam's dictatorship, it was extremely difficult to preach the Gospel in Iraq; it could quickly gain someone a three-year trip to prison if caught.
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Thank you
"I don't know the proper word to say thank you to the Americans," said this man, left. "If I had been put in an Iraq hospital, maybe my arms would have been cut off. I've been healed. Americans are angels." Photo by Jim Veneman

      A father and a husband, Maher decided to start a media ministry. By collecting audio tapes, books, CDs and videos, he reasoned it was the easiest way to preach the Gospel without being accused of specifically proselytizing for his faith. Using double-deck cassette players, he would stay up until midnight each night taping various Christian programs. His wife would then help copy the tapes while she cooked. He was eager to share his tapes and CDs with fellow members of the church he attended, the sole Arabic evangelical church in the area where he lived.

Soldier stories

Soldiers’ faith helps them through.

Streets of Baghdad

Scenes in and around the ancient city.

Remnants of an old regime

Saddam’s wealth is evident in the many palaces and statues of him that remain intact.