Christian Missionaries Battle For Hearts and Minds in Iraq
After foreign service representatives in Seoul, Amman and Baghdad begged them not to come, they still entered what was essentially a war zone. They told their captors they were doctors and nurses on a humanitarian mission, even demonstrating a therapeutic sports massage on the insurgents. In reality, they were in Iraq for the opening of a missionary school.
Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi, associate professor of world Christianity at the Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, said some missionaries compound the tensions in Iraq because they enter with a sense of "victory and triumph."
"They come with here's an opportunity for Christianity to grow and because the U.S. is the occupier and the U.S. is a Christian country. That's pure ignorance," Orlandi said.
"The word 'missionary' carries with it a lot of baggage. It's tainted with notions of Western hegemony and the seeming need to establish political, economic and religious domination," said Jonathan Bonk, editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, which publishes scholarly articles on the topic.
Salah Aboud, who owns a grocery store in Baghdad and is Muslim, accuses Christian groups of offering help in an attempt to buy people's religion.
"They are not humanitarian aid workers. They came here for business. They are trying to gain people using money so that they'll win them to their side," said Aboud, 49.
Other Iraqis, however, have accepted the assistance with gratitude and associate the presence of Christian missionaries with democracy and freedom of choice.
Zainab Badran, 36, a pharmacist, said one missionary gave him a Bible.
Although he has no intention of converting from Islam to Christianity, he read it out of curiosity and said it was nice to learn about other religions. He believes Christian aid workers should be more open about their aims.
"I can hear their thoughts and this won't harm me," he said. "I can accept them or refuse."
Staff researcher Richard Drezen in New York and special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Hoda Ahmed Lazim in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company