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[casi] Plans Under Way for Christianizing the Enemy

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Plans Under Way for Christianizing the Enemy

c.2003 Newhouse News Service

Two leading evangelical Christian missionary organizations said Tuesday that
they have teams of workers poised to enter Iraq to address the physical and
spiritual needs of a large Muslim population.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant
denomination, and the Rev. Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse said workers
are near the Iraq border in Jordan and are ready to go in as soon as it is
safe. The relief and missionary work is certain to be closely watched because
both Graham and the Southern Baptist Convention have been at the heart of
controversial evangelical denunciations of Islam, the world's second largest

Both organizations said their priority will be to provide food, shelter and
other needs to Iraqis ravaged by recent war and years of neglect. But if the
situation presents itself, they will also share their Christian faith in a
country that's estimated to be 98 percent Muslim and about 1 percent

"We go where we have the opportunity to meet needs," said Ken
Isaacs,international director of projects for Samaritan's Purse, located in
Boone, N.C. "We do not deny the name of Christ. We believe in sharing him in
deed and in word. We'll be who we are."

Mark Kelly, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists' International Mission
Board, said $250,000 has already been spent to provide immediate needs, such
as blankets and baby formula. Much more will follow, along with a more overt
spiritual emphasis.

"Conversations about spiritual things will come about as people ask about our
faith," said Kelly, based in Richmond, Va. "It's not going to be like what
you might see in other countries where there's a preaching service held
outside clinics and things like that."

Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National
Association of Evangelicals, is urging caution for the two groups, as well as
other evangelical organizations planning to go into Iraq.

"Evangelicals need to be sensitive to the circumstances of this country and
its people," said Cizik, based in Washington, D.C. "If we are perceived as
opportunists we only hurt our cause. If this is seen as religious freedom for
Iraq by way of gunboat diplomacy, is that helpful? I don't think so. If
that's the perception, we lose."

Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, has been less
diplomatic about Islam than his father has been. Two months after the Sept.
11 attacks, Franklin Graham called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion"
during an interview on NBC, the television network. In his book published
last year, "The Name," Graham wrote that "The God of Islam is not the God of
the Christian faith." He went on to say that "the two are different as
lightness and darkness."

On the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis last year, the
Rev. Jerry Vines, a former denomination president, told several thousand
delegates that Islam's Allah is not the same as the God worshipped by
Christians. "And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah's not
going to turn you into a terrorist," Vines said.

Widespread condemnation of those comments followed from other Protestant
leaders as well as from Catholic and Jewish groups. The Graham and Vines
statements even created a problem for President Bush, who has called Islam a
"religion of peace."

Bush, an evangelical Christian himself, has close ties to both Franklin
Graham, who gave a prayer at his inauguration, and Southern Baptists, who are
among his most loyal political supporters.

Isaacs, who works for Franklin Graham, refused to comment about his boss'
views of Islam, except to say, "most of Franklin's work is to the Muslim
world and those are sincere acts of love, concern and compassion."

In a written statement, Graham said: "As Christians, we love the Iraqi
people, and we are poised and ready to help meet their needs. Our prayers are
with the innocent families of Iraq, just as they are with our brave soldiers
and leaders."

Isaacs said Samaritan's Purse has assembled a team of nine Americans and
Canadians that includes veterans of war-relief projects in Afghanistan,
Kosovo, Rwanda and Somalia. The teams include a doctor, an engineer and a
water specialist.

They will bring resources that include a system that can provide drinking
water for up to 20,000 people, material to build temporary shelters for more
than 4,000 families, packages of household items for 5,000 families, and kits
designed to meet the general medical needs of 100,000 people for three

So far, there's no budget for the effort because it's so fluid, said Jeremy
Blume, a Samaritan's Purse spokesman, but donors are being asked to help. A
Southern Baptist fund-raising drive is under way to help underwrite the cost,
Kelly said. Both groups said only private donations have funded their plans
thus far, with no government assistance in the works.

Southern Baptists, representing a denomination of 16 million members, have
workers in Jordan waiting to help refugees. But so far, few refugees have
arrived, perhaps because it's still too difficult for much of the population
to maneuver between warring militaries on their way to the border, Kelly

Baptist Men, a national organization devoted to providing disaster relief
work, has promised to send volunteers from the United States "on a moment's
notice," Kelly said.

As soon as they gain access to northern Iraq, teams will go, Kelly said, with
plans of feeding up to 10,000 or more people a day.

"The hope is that as the war front moves and the situation in the outlying
areas improves, we'll be able to send mobile teams in.

"Our understanding of relief ministries is that anytime you give a cup of
cold water in the name of Jesus you've shared God's love in a real physical
way. That also raises the question as to why you did that. When people ask
you, you explain that it's because of the love of God that has been poured
out into my life and I have a deep desire that you know that same love as

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