Iraqi minister promotes peace

MARIETTA — A minister from Iraq returned to Marietta this past weekend to spread a message of peace and understanding.

Jonah Salim, a 32-year-old Iraqi Christian, has been living in the United States for just over a year, working for a church in Bay City, Mich.

Craig Butler, pastor of First Presbyterian Church on Fourth Street in Marietta, heard of him through the Presbyterian community, and invited him to speak there in April. The congregation liked what he had to say so much that he was invited back.

“My message is peace,” Salim said. “How do we promote peace when the problem is war and terror? We have Muslim extremists. They hate infidels, which is all Western people. We need to understand why they hate infidels and work from there.”

He spoke at the church Saturday night and Sunday morning. One of his overriding messages was that war only leads to more war. He pointed out the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which has been ongoing for more than 50 years, has cost countless lives and is no closer to a solution.

“The U.N. reports that $157 million is necessary to feed the starving people in Africa,” he said. “The war in Iraq costs between $200 million and $300 million every day.”

Salim said he believes, through missionary work, Christians can change the views of Muslim extremists and show them their beliefs about Westerners are wrong.

“It is not easy to change their views,” he said. “Action and love is always the answer. We must go to them and show them our love through our actions, to help those who are poor and are suffering, help them get food and help them get medicine.”

Salim lived in Iraq for the first 26 years of his life. He left in 2003, and traveled to Egypt, where he studied for his master’s in theology and worked with African refugees who had been imprisoned for entering the country illegally. He said he helped some 30 prisoners obtain food, medicine and money to buy plane tickets to return to their home countries.

“Because I showed them the act of love that I myself had experienced, five of them decided to convert to Christianity,” he said. “I do not say that I converted them; they made the decision to convert themselves.”

Salim was eventually made to leave Egypt because of his work with the refugees there. His visa was revoked, and the only embassy that would grant him a temporary visa was America’s.

When Salim came to Detroit, he said, he was surprised to discover that even though there were many Muslims in the Detroit area, there was still a disconnect between them and the Christians living there.

“There needs to be a dialogue,” he said. “In this country, there must be a greater understanding between the Muslims and the Christians. We must understand each other’s beliefs and views.”

Butler said hearing Salim speak made him think about the role of his own church within the community.

“I sometimes forget how parochial my faith can become,” he said. “We can be so secluded at times, but he’s reminded us that the role of the church is out in the community, helping the poor and the less fortunate.”

Judy Peoples, a member of the congregation at First Presbyterian, said she was touched by his message.

“He lived in war every day of his life for 26 years,” she said. “To come out of that with such a gentle soul is just amazing.”

Salim is applying for asylum in the United States and traveling around the country spreading his message.