AMMAN, Jordan (BP)–Baptists from across the Middle East gathered in Amman, Jordan, Oct. 10 to take part in a unique commissioning service.
Douglas Baba, pastor of an Iraqi congregation in the town of al-Fuhais in Jordan, was appointed as pastor/evangelist by the newly formed Baptist Union of Iraq and will soon be furthering Baptist work there.
Also commissioned was an Egyptian Baptist, Izzat Shehata, a graduate of the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, as a missionary to Mauretania in North Africa.
Participating in the service were the members of the Amman Baptist Church, the oldest of Jordan’s 17 Baptist congregations, and representatives from the Jordanian and Lebanese Baptist conventions. Staff members from various mission organizations also were present, including the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and Campus Crusade for Christ, which has a strong presence in Jordan.
Led by the Amman church’s pastor, Fawaz Ameish, the service, which included an impassioned sermon from Charles Costa, a Lebanese Baptist, ended with a laying on of hands in which Baptist leaders filed past the two men sitting on the platform. Either aloud or privately, each prayed for the men and their future ministry. Gifts were presented and their wives joined them for a final blessing.
The commissioning of Baba to work in Iraq is the first stage of an evangelistic and church-planting initiative by the Baptist Union of Iraq. Baptist work in Iraq started in 1985 as a development within the Presbyterian church and was led by Nabil Sara, a Presbyterian elder, and Khalil Samara, a missionary from Brazil.
In 1988, there were 500 Baptists, meeting in 50 homes; however, in common with all churches, numbers declined after the first Gulf War in 1991, largely because of emigration.
Baptists became a denomination in their own right in 1997. There are now five congregations in Iraq, two in Baghdad and three in the north of the country, all meeting in homes. In September, a baptismal service was held at a home using a portable swimming pool in which 31 people were baptized.
The Baptist Union of Iraq was formed in order to provide a unified organization to enable effective mission. A priority will be the planting of a church in the Kerekh area of Baghdad, which has a population of 3 million but no evangelical church.
Muthafar Yacoub, moderator of the Baptist Union of Iraq and one of three Iraqi exiles returning as Baptist leaders, said at a BUI general assembly meeting earlier in the day, “This is a new phase in our mission. I invite you to share in the ministry to which God has called us, and participate in this exciting adventure.”
Another of the three, Mishiel Edward, who will return to Iraq when resources become available, said, “I think this is the time God wants to show His mercy. The way will be tough, but there will be blessing. I have peace inside.
“In five or 10 years I want to see more people coming to Jesus, and the cross everywhere.”
Baba, who will return to Baghdad with his wife and three children as soon as accommodations can be found, said, “We believe that this is God’s time for us, and that he has prepared us here to work in Iraq.”
The International Mission Board is working alongside Iraqi and other Baptists in developing ministries in Iraq.
In what one IMB worker described as a “parallel track” to that of the Baptist union, the IMB is helping to develop a Baptist school in Baghdad on the model of the successful Amman Baptist School in Jordan, which includes a character education program encompassing Christians and Muslims for use in Iraqi schools.
Mark Woods is a writer with the London-based Baptist Times. The story includes editing at Baptist Press’ central bureau in Nashville, Tenn.