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Evangelist: Iraq more hopeful than reported by U.S. media

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist evangelist Anis Shorrosh, in a recent visit to Baghdad, found the rebuilding process in Iraq to be more positive and productive than what is being portrayed in much of the American media.

Shorrosh, based in Fairhope, Ala., but originally from Nazareth, Israel, left on Nov. 16 for the Middle East to provide encouragement to Iraqi Christians and to share the Gospel.

Shorrosh traveled to Baghdad on Nov. 20 via Air Serv, a non-government, nonprofit airline dedicated to providing services to humanitarian organizations overseas. When landing in Baghdad, Air Serv pilots perform a complicated corkscrew maneuver to make the airplane a more difficult target for missiles, according to an article on the group’s website. Shorrosh described the landing as exciting, with very high G-forces.

Shorrosh likened their arrival at the Baghdad airport to entering a ghost town. “Imagine being in an international airport and only seeing 50 people,” he said. He and the other passengers rode in a van into Baghdad, which appeared to be a normal city, contrary to reports often made by American media.

The Iraqi economy seemed operational, although its depressed state also was evident. One dollar of American currency bought two thousand dinar of Iraqi currency. For lunch, Shorrosh dined at The White Palace restaurant, where “a scrumptious royal feast” for 11 people cost them only $45. A week in the royal suite of a prominent Baghdad hotel cost him only $156. Gasoline was selling for twenty-five cents per gallon at the government stations, and for double that amount “on the black market.” Gasoline entrepreneurs advertised by standing along the roadways waving funnels.

Some routines of daily life seemed to be emerging, but no phone companies or postal services are operating, Shorrosh said. The primary means of contacting others is via satellite phones or in person. Plenty of police and cleanup workers were stationed along highly traveled roadways, but the side streets remained neglected. Shorrosh was struck by images such as a double-decker bus traveling alongside a donkey-drawn cart. Lots of buying and selling was being done on in the streets, with items such as washers and dryers for sale. Some homes he visited were equipped with satellite television where he was thrilled to watch Christian stations such as TBN.

“Visitations in the homes were both heartwarming and heartbreaking,” Shorrosh said. The Iraqis are excited about the changes happening there and they have great hope for rebuilding, he said. Most families are able to provide for themselves at least meagerly. Shorrosh estimated that about 20 percent of the people are poverty-stricken and are able to receive supplies such as powdered milk, flour, oil and beans from aid organizations.

Shorrosh visited seven churches and found the Christians to be very encouraged and blessed by the support they’ve received. Twenty evangelical churches currently exist in Iraq, he said. Out of 25 million people, 94 percent are Muslim, and about 3 percent hail from various Christian traditions, with a minority being evangelicals. Twenty-seven percent of all doctors there are Christians.

Upon Shorrosh’s arrival, he was invited to speak to the youth at the country’s largest evangelical church — Central Presbyterian Church. He said he was received warmly and was invited to preach there that Sunday and again just prior to his return to the United States. He noted the 46,000 food relief packages sent by Southern Baptists and the $87 billion dollar relief package recently passed by the Congress to be used to build hospitals and schools and to provide 5,000 trucks, among other things, for use in the rebuilding efforts. “One pastor jumped up and hugged me,” he said.

Shorrosh also had opportunities to visit with American soldiers. During his visit to the Central Palace, where the new American Embassy will be established, he observed 600 soldiers eating a traditional American breakfast in the ballroom. The throne room housed 400 of the soldiers’ bunk beds.

On the road to Tikrit, which they traversed without incident, they visited with several groups of American soldiers. One G.I. showed Shorrosh a booby trap for which the soldiers must remain on guard: a 6-by-30-inch soil-colored pipe bomb they had found. Shorrosh told the soldiers that he was praying for them. “They thanked us for the prayers,” he said. Whether at the Central Palace or on the road, he found the soldiers to be “very positive, very dedicated, and very responsive, just wanting to get the job done.”

Shorrosh noted three elements that thwart the rebuilding effort: “First there are the 30,000 criminals that were released from prison. They are the ones raping and pillaging. They have nothing to lose.”

Second, mercenaries came into the country to make whatever money they can make. Shorrosh told the story of a friend who was traveling in a group stopped by mercenaries. The group paid $5,000 to buy safe passage.

Third: the suicide bombers, to whom Shorrosh referred as “Hussein’s commandos.” He said he believes that with Hussein’s capture in mid-December, the ideology of these people will languish. But, he said, “Things are more peaceful there than we hear in our media.”

Shorrosh left Iraq about 24 hours prior to President Bush’s secret arrival in Baghdad for Thanksgiving. Shorrosh lamented CNN’s coverage of the president’s mission, describing their report as “very obnoxious” and “negative, negative, negative.” He said, “My goodness, they should be so proud that the man has dared to go there. Instead they say it won’t have any impact.” Based on Shorrosh’s own positive experience in Baghdad, he believes the president’s safety was not in jeopardy during the journey.

Prior to Hussein’s capture, Shorrosh had been convinced that both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were dead. “Because our people have such large egos, they would prove it by sending pictures. But there has been no video of them, just voice tapes that can be easily faked.” He added, “Hussein was dead as far as his influence went.” He still believes bin Laden to be dead since no new pictures have turned up to prove otherwise.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America had less to do with politics or the economy and more to do with what Shorrosh described as a “Christian ‘jihad’ which has been successful in winning the hearts of Muslims.” Since 1991, he stated, 6 million Muslims per year have come to the Christian faith.

In his own outreach to Muslims, Shorrosh presents them with a Koran-like book titled, “The True Furqan,” available in both Arabic and English. Now in its fourth printing, the book challenges the Muslim Koran and presents the Gospel in classical eighth-century Arabic style.

Shorrosh is the author of “Islam Revealed,” now in its eighth printing with Thomas Nelson. He is currently working on his 10th book, “Islam: A Threat or a Challenge?”
More information on Islam and The True Furqan can be found at www.islam-in-focus.com.

    About the Author

  • Kay Adkins