By Charley Morgan/
THE vicar of a church in the centre of Baghdad came to Melksham on December 23 to explain to the congregation of St Michael’s Church what life is like in the war torn Iraqi capital.
St George’s Church, within the heavily fortified International Zone, is surrounded by razor wire and barricades to deflect bomb blasts.
The Rev Canon Andrew White makes the one-mile journey to the church each week wearing bullet-proof clothes and escorted by a brigade of Iraqi Special Forces complete with guns and armoured cars.
In the last three years 11 of his staff and all of his original church leaders have been murdered.
As recently as last July he was forced to leave the country for a while because of a number of threats made against him.
But he believes things are now changing for the better with improvements to electricity supplies and security and fewer people being killed.
He said: “These may seem small improvements but as we look back on the past year, indeed the past five years, it is difficult to describe how tough life has been.
“The good news is that we have started thinking positively again and that we are back in our church.”
About 1,000 people come to the church. None of them are Anglicans, they belong to many denominations including Iraq Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian, but they come to the church because they live nearby and it is too dangerous to travel.
The Rev White has installed a kitchen in the church and members of the Mothers’ Union take it in turns to cook it and he is also planning a medical and dental unit for Christians and Muslims alike.
The children go to ordinary local schools when they can, but teachers often cannot get in and when they do there are more than 100 children in a class so learning is not easy.
He said: “I always have a spot in my services where people can talk to me and tell me what has been happening.
“The stories are all awful and a reminder that although the level of violence in Baghdad is becoming less, the results can still be devastating on a personal level.
“One terrified woman told the congregation that she had just been to the market and that a woman next to her had been killed.
“Another person had witnessed a car being blown up, but had escaped unscathed.
“The stories of death and destruction, chaos and tragedy continue but among them all was a simple gratitude to God for survival.
“For my people Christmas is a reminder that their faith is the only thing they have to hold on to in a time when they have been surrounded by death and destruction.”