NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch is urging all Southern Baptists to pray fervently for the upcoming elections in Iraq, specifically that democracy would prevail and God would protect those involved in the historic event.
“On behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, I would like to call for two days of prayer and fasting on Jan. 30 and 31,” Welch said in a Jan. 26 statement to Baptist Press. “Due to requests from our chaplains and missionaries in Iraq, we need to dedicate these days to praying that democracy would be realized in Iraq, the people of Iraq will be safe and will vote, and especially for the safety of our troops.”
In mentioning the American soldiers, Welch cited Joshua 1:9, which says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
“Our men will be involved in extraordinary dangers, tasks and pressures as they deliver voting ballots and equipment to villages and cities throughout Iraq,” Welch said. “This is a political battle that very much needs spiritual intervention. Our men are in the arena of the enemy. God bless our soldiers.”
Welch’s appeal coincided with the deadliest day of the entire Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign as a helicopter crash killed 30 Marines and one Navy sailor who were on a mission to help prepare the country for the elections. Reports indicated the incident was caused by weather rather than a direct attack by Iraqi insurgents.
During a news conference later that day, President Bush said the crash report would be “very discouraging to the American people,” but he emphasized the importance of a proper perspective.
“We value life, and we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life,” he said. “But it is the long-term objective that is vital, and that is to spread freedom. Otherwise, the Middle East will continue to be a cauldron of resentment and hate — a recruiting ground for those who have this vision of the world that is the exact opposite of ours.”
Bush said he is fully aware of the dangers surrounding the implementation of democracy in Iraq because terrorists have declared war against such progress, but the elections will go forward Jan. 30 as Iraqi voters demonstrate their desire for freedom.
“Across the world, freedom has deadly enemies. Yet across the world, freedom has great and growing momentum,” the president said. “There have been enormous sacrifices made by some of our citizens in the spread of freedom. Families suffer as the result of the loss of a loved one. We continue to offer our condolences and prayers for those who do suffer. We’ll honor the memories of their loved ones by completing our missions.”
The number of Iraqis who turn out to vote is not as significant as the fact that they’re voting, Bush said, because democracy is a long process that is just beginning in that country. He reminded reporters of his close relationship with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan and said it wasn’t long ago that Japan was a bitter enemy.
“And today, because Japan is a democracy and a free country, the Japanese are strong allies with the United States of America and we’re better off for it,” he said.
Bush said he is impressed by the bravery of the Iraqi citizens who are working hard to ensure a successful election, and he anticipates a “grand moment in Iraqi history.” If a couple of years ago he had said the Iraqi people would be electing their own government in January 2005, Bush said he would have received doubtful reactions compared to the emerging hope for democracy in Iraq.
“I urge all people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists,” the president said. “These terrorists do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. They have no positive agenda. They have no clear view of a better future. They’re afraid of a free society.”
Bush reiterated that democracy is a work in progress and results will not be immediate. He said the United States is still working to perfect democracy more than 200 years after its establishment, and its flaws were evident when the founding fathers declared all people equal but all people were not treated equally in this country for more than a century. Democracy, Bush said, is the work of generations.
Welch’s call to prayer for Iraq follows a similar appeal from a Southern Baptist chaplain in the region, Capt. Lyle Shackelford, who requested specific prayer for U.S. soldiers involved in the electoral process.
“The insurgents do not want Iraqi citizens to vote, so they do not want the equipment to arrive at the polling stations,” Shackelford wrote in an e-mail from Iraq. “Timely delivery must occur so that the elections occur. Freedom will not ring throughout this country if the voting process fails.”
Shackelford recounted: “I will pray with my soldiers before they leave on their convoys and move outside our installation gates here in [southern Iraq]. They will be driving into the arena of the enemy delivering the voting machines and equipment. It is not a game for them, but an historical mission that is extremely dangerous.
“Your prayer support and God’s intervention are needed to safeguard our soldiers and give democracy a chance in the war-torn country,” the chaplain wrote.