Canon Andrew White — also known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” — will be in South Africa in May 2015, to share about his ministry in Iraq and the Middle East and to raise support for the minority Christians in desperate need, reports INcontext Ministries.
White is the Chaplain of St George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, Iraq. He estimates that his congregation used to number around 6 000 people, but in the last decade, over 1 200 have been killed. “One of things that really hurt was when one of the Christians came and said, “For the first time in 1 600 years, we had no church service in Nineveh,'” he told Arwa Damon from CNN.
The position in Iraq has deteriorated further this year with the country’s Christians perhaps having suffered more than any other group since the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) rose to power. Beyond Iraq, Christianity is in decline all over the Middle East – just 5% of the region’s population identifies themselves as Christian, and that figure continues to drop.
When ISIS militants took over Mosul (Nineveh) in northern Iraq in June 2014, the Christian residents who chose to stay came under blatant attack, with the Islamic State distributing flyers that gave them three options: convert to Islam, pay a fine or ‘protection tax’, or be killed. Many of their abandoned homes are now marked in black lettering, declaring them to be “Property of the Islamic State”.
White refuses to leave Baghdad, despite the danger, as St George’s is Iraq’s last Anglican church.
During his SA vist, White will visit Johannesburg (May 9), Pretoria (May 10), Durban (May 11), Port Elizabeth (May 12) and Cape Town (May 13). Venues still have to be finalised.
Before joining the clergy, White studied at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, qualifying as an Operating Department Practitioner in 1985. He worked in anaesthetics and was a member of the cardiac arrest team. On realising that he had done everything he had set out to achieve, he entered the priesthood through the Church of England. While studying theology at Cambridge University, he decided to learn about Judaism and Islam.
In 1998, at the age of 33 years, he joined the clergy at Coventry Cathedral. Six weeks after moving to Coventry, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that has, in later years, affected his speech and posed serious health challenges.
At Coventry Cathedral, he served as the Director of International Ministry, heading up the International Centre for Reconciliation that promoted reconciliation in conflicts (mainly religious) across the globe. He remained in this post until 2005, concentrating on the Middle East because that is where he believed the Church needed to be involved.
In 2005, White moved to Baghdad to become the Anglican Chaplain to Iraq. The congregation of St George’s Church refers to him as their “Aboona” (Father), and he continues with the reconciliation work that he promoted during his time at Coventry Cathedral, meeting with both Sunni and Shia Muslim leaders on a regular basis. The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FFRME) was established in 2005 as part of his reconciliation work in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole.
White is no stranger to danger, having been hijacked, kidnapped, held at gunpoint and attacked – in his own words, “the usual thing”. Many of his staff have been kidnapped or killed, with more than 900 members of his congregation killed in a single year.
William Wilberforce Award
On May 9, 2014, White was awarded the William Wilberforce Award for exemplifying the passions and principles of William Wilberforce, English politician and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. The award recognises “dedicated change makers who are working to create lasting impact in our cultures and communities through inspirational Christian action” and who act as a “witness of real Christianity in society”. He became the first Anglican priest to ever win the award.
White stated that it was a great honour to receive the award in memory of one of the greatest statesmen of the Christian faith. In his acceptance speech, he stated that the Lord has given him two objects in life: one is love and the other is reconciliation.
The award was presented in the same week that Christian leaders released a major declaration at the US Congress calling for the protection of the persecuted Church. White also spoke at this event at Congress.
Watch video: Canon White receives Wilberforce Award: