Published: 11:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 24 October 2011
Christians given land in northern Iraq for church and other facilities
Country/Region: Iraq, Middle East and North Africa
Christians in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan have been given two acres of land to build a multi-purpose centre that will include a church, seminary, medical clinic and school.
The Grace Baptist Cultural Centre will be built in the town of Simele, with the first phase of the facility scheduled to be completed next year.
The land was granted by the governor of the regional government in Dohuk. Deputy Governor Gurgis Shlaymun, an Assyrian Christian, attended a ceremony to mark the occasion at the end of last month. He pledged his support for the project and spoke openly about the spiritual dimension of the centre:
Jesus said your light will be shone through the people to see your works and glorify your Father in the Heaven... You understand this project is from God.
The event was attended by around 100 local officials and Christians. One Iraqi pastor spoke of the dream that God had put in his heart and the hearts of others to see such a centre established in Iraq, adding: “Thanks to our God and for His plan for us.”
It marks a positive turnaround for Christians in Simele, where they have a tragic history. In 1800, Christians were forced out of their homes and massacred, and in 1933, an estimated 3,000 Assyrian and Chaldean Christians were slaughtered by the Iraqi government.
The modern complex will feature one four-storey building and one two-storey building. The clinic for women and children, who generally have limited healthcare options in the Middle East, will be built first. It will provide treatment free of charge.
The new Baptist school will have a Christian ethos, teaching principles of “kindness, respect, compassion, human rights, charity, dignity, equality, and peaceful co-existence among every Kurd, Assyrian, Arab, Chaldean, Turkmen, Syriac, and Armenian”, according to one of the leaders.
Northern Iraq has become a refuge for thousands of Christians, who have been forced to flee their homes in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities because of targeted violent attacks against them.
Muslim extremists are trying to “cleanse” the country of any trace of Christianity, but Iraqi Christians are showing courageous resistance. The Grace Baptist Cultural Centre is the latest effort to maintain a visible Christian presence in the country. In July, the first new church in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion was opened in Kirkuk.