Hunter Williamson

In February, Bassem Melki was invited to Iraq by a local church for a peacemaking training conference and the celebration of its 20th anniversary.

The director of the Peacemaking and Non-formal Training Department and assistant professor at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, a ministry of Thimar-LSESD, expected to arrive in a country gripped by turmoil and instability. At that time, US military forces and armed groups backed by Iran were exchanging fire; Turkey was striking Kurdish guerilla fighters in northern Iraq; and Iran had launched ballistic missiles against an alleged Israeli spy base and opposition sites in the northern city of Erbil. In the back of his mind, Melki recalled images he had seen in the media of the Iraq war and ISIS. 

He boarded his flight in Beirut and a couple hours later landed in Baghdad. To his surprise, he found Iraq to be safe, beautiful, and the church to be thriving. On Sundays, worship music rang vibrantly and wonderfully. Congregations clapped and sang, freely giving glory to God as security forces stood guard outside, providing the church safety and protection. Bassem found the local churches in Baghdad to be well organized,  and serving the surrounding community.

This is a Golden Era for churches in Iraq,” Bassem said after returning to Beirut. His trip, though brief, changed his perception of the country. In addition to stability and security, he saw how a new form of Christianity is taking root and flourishing following the vast exodus of Iraq’s ancient Christian community.  

Prior to the US invasion in 2003, some 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq. But the war and nearly two decades of violence and conflict that followed led many Christians to migrate. Today, fewer than 150,000 are estimated to remain. But fewer Christians doesn’t mean that the church is dead. Bassem said that in Baghdad, there are Nazarene, Alliance, Pentecostal, and Baptist churches, thriving and working together. Congregations at each number between 200 to 300 families. 

Churches also engage with their communities through discipleship home groups and relief work. Middle East Revive and Thrive (MERATH), a ministry of Thimar-LSESD, has supported a church in Baghdad with providing food and hygiene kits for around 100 families. 

What is noteworthy is that the churches in Baghdad are united, working together and, celebrating ministry achievements and victories in Christ,” Bassem said. “This beautiful relationship fosters support and collaboration, free from competition due to the humbleness of leaders and the vast fields of harvest.”