Iraq (CAM) — Thousands of people in Iraq amassed when the first Roman Catholic pope ever to visit the country arrived earlier this year, presenting local missionaries with an opportunity for mass distribution of Bibles – except when soldiers at a checkpoint confiscated them.
Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq in March presented massive security challenges in the overwhelmingly Muslim country long battered by Islamic extremists, with all military and civil security forces taking stringent measures. Soldiers at checkpoints were instructed to seize the cargo of any transport vehicle, and before one major papal event, they confiscated local missionaries’ carload of Bibles.
The soldiers told the workers they would return the Bibles after the event, the ministry leader said. The team had prayed that they would be able to distribute at least 1,000 Bibles during the event.
“The strange thing is that we met several people while walking in the streets carrying the same Bibles that we distribute, and when we asked them, they said that they got them from the checkpoint,” the leader said.
On the way back to the ministry base, the workers stopped at the checkpoint to retrieve the Bibles but found they were gone, he said.
“When we asked the soldiers, they said, ‘It was written on them to be distributed free of charge, so we gave them to everyone who was stopped for inspection,’” the ministry leader said.
“It seems that the Lord ensured the distribution of His Word in His own way. God’s plans are not like our plans, and His ways are not like our ways, for He is wiser and greater.”
The workers distributed other Bibles to crowds at various cities and villages that the pope visited.
“We had a team of 10 people, and each person was able to talk to 10 families to deliver them Bibles and visit them,” the ministry leader said.
“We were able to reach 100 families in just two days. We visited these families after we presented Bibles to them and their children, and we invited them to accept Christ and His salvation. Many of them accepted Christ.”
Surprised by Christ
Distributing Bibles in one town on the pope’s itinerary, the ministry leader asked a Catholic man what Christ meant to him.
“He said, ‘Everything!’ And I said, what do you know about Christ?” the ministry leader said. “He mentioned things like He is born of a virgin, the crucifixion, and salvation. I asked him if he had experienced that salvation in his life. He said, ‘No.’”
The leader said he received the same answer when he asked him if he read the Bible, if he owned a Bible and if he prayed to Christ.
“When I asked him why not, he said, ‘No one guided me to that,’” he said.
“I told him, ‘Would you like to learn everything about the Bible and Christ?’ He said, ‘Of course.’”
The leader and his team visited him at his home, telling him about Christ’s salvation, the power of God’s Word, and fellowship with the Lord, he said.
“It was a great surprise for him to hear about Christ in this way,” the leader said. “He accepted Christ as a personal Savior, and he and his family began reading the Bible and learning the biblical faith.”
About half of the Bibles that team members distribute are children’s Bibles, the ministry leader said.
Workers devote much of their energies toward children, and many receive Christ and act as bridges to their parents and other relatives.
In two refugee camps where local missionaries provide medicines and school supplies, about 300 children attend Sunday school meetings, the leader said.
“Our ministry to children is not only spiritual, but regularly we provide them with clothing, food, medications and school supplies when needed,” he said.
“We lead about five children to Christ every month through Sunday school meetings in the camps – kids from Muslim backgrounds, traditional churches and orphans.”
At a camp for persons displaced by violence in Iraq and elsewhere, two young brothers who had lost their mother as they fled an Islamic State (ISIS) offensive received children’s Bibles, he said. Workers provided their father with an audio Bible, as vision problems hindered his ability to read.
“Two weeks later we came back to the same tent, and the father said the kids don’t have school, so they were reading the Bible all the time,” the leader said. “He said, ‘Here, listen to them memorizing verses,’ and that their behavior and attitude had changed so much that they were like angels.”
The Holy Spirit transformed their hearts through the Word of God and prepared the family to receive Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection, the leader said.
“We led this family to Christ, and the kids now attend all our home church meetings in one of our refugee camps.”
Local missionaries are bringing Bibles and other tools for gospel proclamation and discipleship to people throughout Iraq. Help equip and encourage these Gospel workers through Christian Aid Mission.
Header and story images courtesy of Christian Aid Mission.