For the first time since the war in Iraq began, Seventh-day Adventist Church members in Baghdad received an official visit by an attorney from the Adventist world church headquarters who offered encouragement as well as aid on religious liberty matters.
Noting that 150 people braved heat, traffic and post-war confusion to reach the Baghdad Seventh-day Adventist Church on August 2 to hear a sermon by Mitchell A. Tyner, an associate general counsel for the world church. He said the building was "a little oasis of tranquility" to which church members flocked.
"Just being on the street in Iraq is stressful," Tyner said, recalling the conditions on the scene. While the church building was undamaged, other nearby structures were affected by the war, and "when you walk through the doors of our church, it is quiet and reverent."
The church's congregation was welcoming and cordial, Tyner said. "People went to considerable lengths to get there. It's remarkable: out of a congregation of [about] 200, there were 150 in church that day."
Tyner had gone to Iraq in order to help members gain accommodation during an upcoming round of school exams that include testing on the Sabbath, or Saturday. He met with staffers in the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA, the transitional governing authority in the country to ask for help with upcoming Sept. 13 to 22 nationwide school exams, some of which conflict with Sabbath keeping by Adventist students.
An appeal to the ministry of education was made, and the attorney—who works on religious liberty cases in many parts of the world for church members and entities--said Iraqi educators have made further inquiries via e-mail, indicating that "they are taking the problem seriously and will act shortly."
At the same time, Adventists in Iraq expressed the hope that they will be able to reopen a church school that was closed in the latter years of Saddam Hussein's government. Tyner said the school may reopen in about a year.
"The intent is to operate a high-quality school that will attract students from a wide swath of society," Tyner explained.
There are more than 200 Seventh-day Adventist members in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad. Organized in 1923, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has three congregations in the country, including one in the city of Nineveh--famed for its visit by the reluctant Biblical prophet, Jonah.
Tyner said the Baghdad church was undamaged during the war activities, although members have had to increase the height of an exterior wall to prevent looting. No members were physically hurt during the war, he said, however, the economy is very difficult for all in Iraq right now.
Tyner added that the church is held in "high esteem by the populace in Baghdad. The church and its leaders are known and respected." [Editor: Mark A. Kellner for ANN/APD]
(C) Adventist News Network (ANN) 2003