by Sarah Cunningham —
The pastor had just left his home, hopping into his car, turning the keys in the ignition, and pushing the accelerator as he had so many times before. Only this time, as he began the familiar journey toward his church, he sensed something was different.
Immediately an explosion ripped through the car, violently shaking the vehicle and—at the same time—engulfing it in flames.
“I was totally confused, and I couldn’t see anymore,” Pastor Joseph recounts.
Though disoriented, temporarily blinded, and in shock, he could hear a woman’s hysterical voice piercing his ears. “This man is dying!” she screamed.
This is it, Pastor Joseph thought. I’m dying.
But then his sight returned in time for him to see the wreckage engulfed in flames. Against all odds, Pastor Joseph was able to exit the conflagration.
“Each part of my car was destroyed and damaged, except for my seat.” Pastor Joseph described. “I had no scratches. The car was in flames, but I wasn’t burned. I found pieces of glass in my hair and four parts of the bomb in the scarf I had around my neck. As if a scarf could stop a bomb. Nothing touched me, I lost not even a drop of blood.”
The young pastor was dumbfounded by how his life has been spared. He immediately credited his survival to the hand of the Lord. “God gave me additional time. He put his stamp on my ministry, He said ‘Go on.’ God encouraged me that day.”
Seven years later, the Islamic State took control of big parts of Iraq and Muslims began coming to Christ in surprising numbers. It was then that Pastor Joseph understood why God wanted him to stay in Baghdad. “When someone asks me why I remain with my family in Baghdad, I tell them this story.” He explains, “There is violence everywhere, persecution everywhere. We suffer from the same things as all the people here suffer from. We want to be with them”
And, Pastor Joseph’s brush with death convinced him of one thing. “I know God is with me each moment.”
Pastor Joseph is now married and has two children. Their family sees people coming to Christ through all of the challenges and conflicts. “We have new blood, born again new believers. That is a challenge because it brings a new culture to the church. Recently, a man converted. He is married to three wives and has children with all of them. He asked me what to do. I told him to keep them, what else could I say? This is only one of the problems we are facing because of the new converts.”
Pastor Joseph knows he is at risk living in a city where people are randomly targeted, finding themselves assaulted simply because they in the wrong place at the wrong moment.
Still, he is determined that this is where God wants him to be. “We like to be like a Menorah. We’re a small group, we trust in our God. He can use us. We see that everyone is seeking peace, love and hope. We as a church are sharing about the ultimate source of these things. When they hear us talking about this, they listen.” — Open Doors
To learn more about Open Doors’ work on behalf of the persecuted church, go here