The Rev. Canon Andrew White, who is known as the vicar of Baghdad, paid a special visit to Belmont when he spoke at Friday’s morning chapel.
White opened the convocation with a special blessing in Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. He then gave the audience an intimate, albeit dry testimony about his life and faith experiences.
White was originally raised in the Pentecostal tradition and said that as a child he wanted to be both an anesthesiologist and a priest, but his teachers told him he could not pursue both professions.
“They said you can only be one thing,” White said. “So I did both.”
After medical school, White worked at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London for several years before he suddenly began to feel called to priesthood in the Anglican Communion.
White said that he initially didn’t want to leave the hospital but eventually did because “When God has his way, he has his way.”
After becoming a priest, White was sent by the Church to Coventry, England and put in charge of the Coventry Cathedral International Centre for Reconciliation in 1998.
That same year, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but continued to push forward with his work in spite of the setback.
White said that up until that point the Centre had been focusing on post-communist Eastern Europe but that he wanted to start looking at the Middle East.
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq,White reopened the historic St. George’s Church in Baghdad. Diplomats and expatriates initially used it as a place of worship, but since the rise of insurgent violence, native Iraqis now make up the majority of the over 6000-member congregation and many of them are Muslims.
White said he believes there is much good to be found in Baghdad and cited the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel as his inspiration. In the scriptures, Ezekiel stayed in Iraq even after King Cyrus allowed the Hebrews to return to their homeland from exile.
White believes that he needs to stay in Iraq to continue ministering.
“I knew this glory that I was seeing was the glory of God,” White said in regards to his decision to make his role in Baghdad a full-time commitment.
White’s church houses a medical clinic set up by the U.S. military, which provides various types of care to the local population.
“We knew we had to provide for our people,” White said. “There was no money, but God enabled it.”
Many of those treated at the clinic are Muslims and a substantial number of them have returned to join White’s congregation.
“We never asked any of them to come,” White said.
However, White’s efforts have not been without tragedy. White said that since the church reopened, 1,126 members of the congregation have been killed.
White said that he himself has been, “held at gunpoint, and locked in a room with chopped off human fingers and toes.”
In spite of the violence that he and his church face, White said that relations with the Muslim community in Baghdad are good.
One audience member asked White what he does whenever threatened by terrorists, to which White replied, “I love them. When you love terrorists you bring about change.”
White said that he always places the emphasis on love when preaching to his congregation in Baghdad.
“What you have to do is love, love and love.”