Three dozen members of one Christian church in Iraq disappeared over the course of a week, and only one returned, according to a minister who is warning of the increase of persecution of Christians in that violence-ridden nation.

The warning from Rev. Canon Andrew White is being reported by Voice of the Martyrs, the ministry to persecuted Christians around the world.

VOM cited an interview with White on in which the Anglican minister from Baghdad was describing the conditions for Iraqi Christians for a committee on religious freedom. He said kidnappings, torture and executions of Christians are rising.

He also noted the people’s desire for Christ sometimes is overwhelming. The small church he leads in Baghdad was small, but has exploded to an attendance of more than 1,300 recently.

“It is an Anglican church, and none of my people are Anglicans,” he said. “They simply some to church because it is the closest church to come to in the midst of great danger.”

But White said the conditions have deteriorated at an increasing pace in the past few months, and it’s sometimes hard to quantify the extent of the persecution. But he said he asked members of his congregation for their perspective on the situation.

“Things are bad for everybody in Iraq. I said them (church members); tell me what has happened over the past week. And the people went through what had happened and I realized that 36 of my congregation in that past week [had] been kidnapped,” White said. Only one was returned.

During his testimony before the commission, he said although Christianity has been present in Iraq from the “foundation” of the faith – ever since Thomas stopped off in Nineveh and converted the people of the city to Christianity – none of its historic tribulations compares to the troubles today.

“In the past few months many Christians have had to leave their places of residence, especially in Dora on the outskirts of Baghdad,” he said. “In Dora, many people were threatened with death if they did not convert to Islam or pay large sums [in Islamic tax]. There are now hundreds of Christians living in churches in Baghdad, where the provision of food and water is becoming increasingly difficult.”

As WND has reported, radical Islamists in the region have been documented to be using a video of an actual beheading to terrorize Christians into leaving.

“In the past few months Christians have become a specific target,” he said. “They have become targets of murder, kidnapping and torture. Sadly, there are multiple examples of this. Thirty-six of my own congregation have been kidnapped. To date, only one has been returned.”

The reasons given for the attacks including not being Muslim, and belonging to a Western religion, even though that is not accurate, he said.

He said a safe zone with adequate supplies of food and water and the right to worship all are essential basics that should be provided. He said the conflicts continue to push Muslims toward a sense of despair with a renewal in religious observance as well as “increased aggression towards local Christians.” He said it also generates a perception that the “West or Israel is response for all problems.”

Michael Youash, the project director for the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, also spoke to the commission, thanking the United States first “for the sacrifices … in liberating Iraq.”

“As a human rights and democracy activist and analyst I would not even be able to return there had Saddam’s tyrannical regime not been removed. Indeed, none of us here today would be able to dream of a brighter future if it were not for Saddam Hussein’s demise.”

But he said the instability that remains leaves religious minorities such as Christians and Jews trapped in a “nightmare.”

“This nightmare we are trying to escape in northern Iraq is not like that of Dora/Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and other major urban centers, where full-out ethnic and sectarian cleansing is taking place,” he said. But even the northern Iraq, a relatively moderate area for religious minorities, the situation includes “minority persecution, government heavy-handedness, and the implementation of prejudicial policies with impunity.”

He said is isn’t feasible “to list each incident of cold-blooded murder, assassination, land theft, illegal land seizure, official discrimination, summary detention, arbitrary arrest … committed with impunity.”

He described the situation there as “soft ethnic cleansing,” he said.

VOM is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.

It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.

He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.

The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.