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[casi] Christian missionaries "poised and ready" to enter Iraq

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'Poised and Ready'
The evangelist who called Islam 'wicked' is ready to bring humanitarian aid
to Muslims in Iraq.

By Deborah Caldwell
Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham and one of the nation’s most
outspoken critics of Islam, said Wednesday he has relief workers "poised and
ready" to roll into Iraq to provide for the population’s post-war physical
and spiritual needs.

Graham, who has publicly called Islam a “wicked” religion, said the relief
agency he runs, <A HREF="">Samaritan’s Purse</A>, is in 
daily contact with U.S. Government
agencies in Amman, Jordan, about its plans.The group’s main objective is to
help refugees and people who have lost their homes or are sick and hungry as
a result of the war, Graham told Beliefnet. “We realize we’re in an Arab
country and we just can’t go out and preach,” Graham said in a telephone
interview from Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C.

However, he added, “I believe as we work, God will always give us
opportunities to tell others about his Son….We are there to reach out to love
them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus

Graham didn’t seem concerned that the public presence in Iraq of Samaritan’s
Purse—which has put out a <A 
 release</A> about its activities—could prompt
already-skeptical Muslims worldwide to view the war as a crusade against
Islam. “We would not go in and participate in something that would embarrass
our administration,” he said. But he added, “We don’t work for the U.S.
Government, so we don’t get our permission from them.”

Some Muslims were outraged that Graham would be allowed to help with Iraq’s
humanitarian effort.

"Franklin Graham obviously thinks it is a war against Islam,” said Ibrahim
Hooper, spokesman for the <A HREF="">Council on American-Islamic 
Relations</A>. “This is a
guy who gave the invocation at President Bush’s inauguration and believes
Islam is a wicked faith. And he's going to go into Iraq in the wake of an
invading army and convert people to Christianity? Nothing good is coming of

A spokeswoman for the <A HREF="">U.S. Agency for International Development</A> 
Wednesday night she could not comment on short notice.

Meanwhile, officials from the <A HREF="">Southern Baptist Convention</A>, the 
largest Protestant denomination, are also planning a large relief effort in
Iraq once the war ends. The <A HREF="">International Mission Board</A> has 
already sent
about $200,000 in hunger funds and $50,000 in general relief funds to its
workers in Amman, Jordan.

“This is not just a great opportunity to do humanitarian work but to share
God's love,” said Sam Porter, state disaster relief director for the Baptist
General Convention of Oklahoma. “We understand that the individual people of
Iraq have done nothing to hurt us. We want to help them to have true freedom
in Jesus Christ.”

On Wednesday, Graham was unusually guarded in his comments about Islam,
saying only that “when people ask, I let them know I don’t believe in their
God. But I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe.” Two
months after September 11, however, he called Islam a <A 
 evil and wicked
religion</A>.” Last summer he said Muslims hadn't sufficiently apologized for the
terrorist attacks--and he challenged Muslim leaders to offer to help rebuild
Lower Manhattan or compensate the families of victims to show they condemn

That comment followed a string of remarks about Islam and Muslims, as Graham
promoted his book, “The Name.” In it, Graham wrote that "Islam--unlike
Christianity--has among its basic teachings a deep intolerance for those who
follow other faiths." Then, in an <A 
 with Beliefnet</A>, he reiterated his
opinion, saying, "I believe the Qur'an teaches violence, not peace." In an
indirect criticism of President Bush, Graham at the time <A 
 Beliefnet</A> that
after September 11, "there was this hoo-rah around Islam being a peaceful
religion--but then you start having suicide bombers, and people start saying,
'Wait a minute, something doesn’t add up here.'"

In the midst of this verbal battle, one Muslim group in New York called him
"bigoted, hateful and divisive."

But Graham is only the most significant leader of a widespread and rapidly
growing effort by conservative American Christians to criticize Islam—and
attempt to convert its followers. Since 1990, the number of missionaries in
Islamic countries has quadrupled. Mission experts estimate they have spoken
to or given Christian material to at least 334 million people in that time.
Groups such as Youth With a Mission and the Southern Baptist Convention's
International Mission Board, sponsor <A 
 jaunts</A> to places like
Kyrgyzstan to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Five years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention <A 
 its International
Missions Board</A> to focus on the part of the world where Muslims live. That
year, the Convention published a prayer guide for use when praying for the
conversion of Muslims. They followed with similar prayer guides aimed at
Hindus and Jews two years later. Two years ago, Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary even created a <A 
HREF="">master's degree program</A> to help 
minister to Muslims.

Donna Derr, an official for <A HREF="">Church World Service</A>, 
a mainline Protestant and
Eastern Orthodox aid group, finds this activity worrisome.

She said the 2,000-year-old Christian churches in Iraq--whose members are a
tiny minority in a vast Muslim population--have worked extraordinarily hard
in the last decade to "develop their place" in the community. She said
Christians and Muslims are working together in a way they never did before.

“I would hate to see the tenuous balance that has been created made
unbalanced by the entry into Iraq by peoples who may have less sensitivity,”
she said. "Our military activity has created one chasm. We don't want to see
our humanitarian assistance create another chasm."

But Graham said Samaritan's Purse has worked closely with Christians in Iraq
since 1991. He first went to Baghdad 30 years ago. "I know exactly what the
situation is, and I’ve briefed my people very well on it," he said.

At this point, said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention
’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, American Christians should stop
worrying about whether Muslims think America is anti-Islam.

“What doesn’t look that way to the Muslim world?” Besides, he said, “they’
re the ones declaring holy war, not us. They’re the ones trying to convert
people by force. They’re the ones killing people in the name of religion, not

But Hooper, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said evangelical
groups bent on converting Muslims often go into countries emphasizing
humanitarian concerns to obscure their proselytizing agenda. “They go after
them when they’re most vulnerable and hope they can get them to leave their
faith. It’s a very despicable practice.”

He warned this could undermine the Bush administration’s efforts to portray
the war as a move toward liberation, not a war against Islam. “If it becomes
generally known it’s going to be a public relations disaster for the Bush
administration,” he said.

Even Michael Cromartie, director of evangelical studies at the <A 
HREF="">Ethics and
Public Policy Center</A> and an ally of evangelical groups, cautioned that
charities like Samaritan’s purse “need to be soberly aware of the perception
problems this might bring in light of the geopolitical situation.”

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