I’ve been shot at and bombed and they’ve tried to blow me up. People say, “Aren’t you afraid where you are?” Never, not one day; I love it. I feel really sad that I’m not there now.
General Mattis? General Suleimani? James Bond?
No, it’s a man of the cloth, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican who tended to Christians (and Jews, too, it turns out) in Baghdad in good times and bad, who tirelessly negotiated for the release of hostages, worked for inter-religious harmony throughout Iraq, traveled constantly to “the West” in a quest for moral, financial, diplomatic and military support for the dwindling Christian population of his adopted country, and just recently was recalled to his native England, where he is clearly frustrated beyond words. At least the words he has been educated to use in public.
He’s been a hostage himself (bribed his way out of it), he’s plagued with multiple sclerosis, he’s tireless, creative, and, depending on how you judge such unique men, either spectacularly brave or crazily foolhardy.
I think of him as the religious version of Lawrence of Arabia.
I met him during the happy days of Iraq, maybe a year after the destruction of Saddam’s regime. He was a participant in a week-long conference on Iraqi reconciliation, held in Copenhagen, sponsored by the Danish Foreign Ministry. I was the lone “outside observer.” Every significant religious group in the country was represented, from Sunnis (including Saddam’s Imam) and Shi’ites to Chaldeans and Catholics. The leading women’s organization send two representatives. The national security adviser was present. And the conversation was fascinating, with Andrew deeply involved. He was clearly trusted by everyone, there was remarkable candor on all sides, and all resolved to work for the “national interest.” I thought then that all the talk about the irreconcilable differences between the different cults was badly misguided. You couldn’t help but be optimistic.
Now he’s out of the Middle East, his 65-man security team evidently insufficient to guarantee his safety against ISIS. He doesn’t like it. His dreams have been shattered, his church has been attacked innumerable times, and he’s had to bury many of his friends. Nobody in “the West” seems to care very much.
People here are not waking up and listening to the reality of what is going on. It is a life-and-death situation, and it is the life and death of our people. Here we are sitting in green country England where many people go to church on Sunday. But it’s a different world. Their biggest question is: “Should I have fish or chicken for lunch?”
Is it the end of Christianity in the Middle East? Could be, he says, at least so far as Iraq is involved:
What is a Christian life there now? The Bishop of Mosul said recently that for the first time in 2,000 years there was no church in Nineveh [an ancient city that is now part of Mosul]. That’s the reality.
It is indeed the reality, and not just in Iraq. And “the West” is silent, as it has been so often when it faces evil far from its own boundaries. Meanwhile, Andrew has moved on, to the one country in the Middle East that provides its citizens with religious freedom and the security to practice their faith. He’s in Jerusalem, trying to achieve reconciliation between Muslim and Jewish religious leaders. It’s not an altogether new venture for him; in his last days in Baghdad, he was the “rabbi” for the city’s remaining six Iraqi Jews. And back at that conference in Copenhagen, the guest of honor at the closing banquet was the former chief rabbi of Denmark.
Guess what? During the week, all the Iraqi religious leaders arranged for private meetings with said rabbi. Why? They’d looked at the map, and they knew that if things were going to be ok for them, they’d need help from the Jews in Israel. Andrew knew it too. He still knows it. That’s no doubt why he’s working in Jerusalem.
At this time of year we give thanks for all kinds of good things and great people. Andrew’s earned a high place on our lists.