The tomato greenhouses he helped build in Baghdad for a seeding project are smashed and looted. Some 1,200 patients at an Iraqi psychiatric hospital who were relying on his group for food had escaped or been released, and now about half have straggled back. Edward Miller, who once oversaw several of the Mennonite Central Committee's Iraqi charities before the war (it spent $6.4 million in 10 years) and recently returned to pick up their pieces, has his work cut out for him. But one thing is not on his to-do list: evangelizing. Mennonite representatives delivering aid in Muslim countries do not preach the Gospel.
They are not alone in this. Many Christian groups active in these countries, including some in Iraq, avoid trying to convert the people around them. The practice is clearly out of bounds for those that form partnerships with local Muslim groups or with the Red Crescent (the Islamic version of the Red Cross). Others simply feel that any good done by outright evangelizing is outweighed by the violence it could provoke or the possibility that needy Muslims might be discouraged from accepting aid. Donna Derr, an associate director at Church World Service, a joint ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations that hopes to deliver approximately $2.5 million in medical supplies in Iraq, notes that her group's faith-based status is evident in its name. "And our name is on the materials we provide in many cases. Beyond that, do we do any sort of proselytizing as we offer assistance? No. We simply consider being there a witness" to God's love.
Whereas Evangelicals often trace their missionary activity to the Great Commission ("Therefore go and make disciples of all nations," Matthew 28), more liberal Christians prefer a verse from Matthew 25: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was sick and you took care of me." That reference shows up on the Mennonite Central Committee's website, along with a commitment to "sharing ... faith in Jesus Christ." Mennonite Committee executive director Ron Mathies explains that his church's position is no less Christian than any other's, "but our stance is one of humility and respect."
Back in Baghdad, Mennonite Committee employee Miller feels no impulse at all to share his faith with his clients. Miller is a devout Mennonite; he was raised in various locations in Africa where his parents did the committee's humanitarian work. While he was growing up in his church's "peace and justice" tradition, he says, "there was always discussion about the injustices and inequalities around the world and what we should do about it." But he does not think that Christ's word needs further elucidation in the region. Referring to indigenous churches that Evangelicals tend to ignore or scorn as compromised, he says, "You have to realize that Christianity has been part of the Middle East for 2,000 years. People here know all about my religion and don't need me to explain it. I don't feel I have anything more to teach the Muslims than they have to teach me." --By David Van Biema. Reported by Amanda Bower/New York and Aparisim Ghosh/Amman