Through personal anecdotes and dry humor, the Rev. Dr. Andrew White, chaplain of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, Iraq, told the Belmont community on Friday how he spreads Christianity with love in the Middle East.
His journey to the Middle East began following his work in Eastern Europe with the International Center for Reconciliation.
“The Middle East is a major issue of tension in the world. I had no problem with Israel, and I tried to get into Iraq and they didn’t want me. I tried and tried and failed and failed,” White said. Eventually, Iraq allowed White to enter the country. “When you pray, he answers them. When you don’t, he won’t.”
Shortly after the terrorist attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, White said he sat in his Baghdad, Iraq hotel room and looked over the Tigris River to see unrest in the city. He turned to the Biblical book of Ezekiel for insight and later used Google to find the tomb of Ezekiel.
“I didn’t know it had 48 chapters. I’d never read it in one go before. And I read that the experience of Ezekiel in Baghdad was the same experience I was having,” he said.
White also told the story of a man who visited the church seeking a blessing for his ill daughter. He told the man she would be healed and to go to the hospital and say “Jesus” in Arabic all the way there. When the man arrived, doctors told him that his daughter had died. The man asked to see her body and hugged it, again repeating the name of “Jesus,” and the daughter awoke and began to speak. The astonished man returned to the church and told White. White replied, “Don’t worry. It’s been done before.”
Among the most moving moments of chapel was when White listed his horrible experiences in Iraq, his church being bombed, the murder of 11 of 13 Iraqis the week after he baptized them, being locked in a torture room with removed digits strewn about the floor and being threatened with guns in his face. Still, he faces his adversaries with love, he said.
“When Jesus tells us to love your enemies, he doesn’t just mean the people in our families. He means others as well. So, I know much of my work is engaging with terrorists. The really bad kind,” White said. “Making peace is long-term business, and you have to engage religion in an attempt bring peace.”
More than 6,000 people, including 600 Muslims, are connected to St. George’s Anglican Church, which is the largest in Iraq and operates a medical clinic and food program. White studied at both Cambridge University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He served as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, is the author of seven books, and has won the Three Faith’s Forum Prize for Inter-Faith Relations and the International Council of Christians and Jews Prize for Intellectual Contribution to Jewish-Christian Relations.