Evangelical Group Launches 'Operation Iraqi Care'

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - As efforts to rebuild Iraq physically, politically, economically and culturally continue, a coalition of Christian organizations in the U.S. Thursday announced "Operation Iraqi Care," a campaign to promote prayer for the spiritual future of the Middle Eastern country whose citizens are mostly Muslim.

"Today, I am asking that the 47 million Christians in America, who love to pray according to the Scriptures, include in their prayer times prayer for the Iraqi people," said Rev. Ted Haggard, senior pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"The next few months might be the most important time of decision the Iraqi people have had in thousands of years," said Haggard, who is also the new president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), one of the sponsors of the campaign.

"They have to decide whether or not they believe in individual dignity, personal responsibility, due process, the rule of law, principles of individual freedom and liberty," he continued. "It's up to them, and we as evangelical Christians in the United States stand with them in their desire to do the right thing."

Haggard said Christians in the U.S. could offer people of faith in Iraq, where Christians make up only approximately 4 percent of the population, advice because of the American experience sorting out the proper role of government in relationship to religion.

"We've had to determine proper and honorable relationships with those who believe differently than we do," Haggard explained. "We've had to wrestle with the fact that people have the right to worship according to their own conscience and persuasions without the involvement of the state."

The coalition - comprised of the NAE, Haggard New Life Church, the World Prayer Center, the World Prayer Team, the Presidential Prayer Team and World Relief - has activated a website to provide interested individuals and churches with information on the effort.

On the home page, visitors can sign up to adopt an Iraqi city. An interactive map provides more information about each of 13 cities. Once a city is chosen, a certificate including the information can be printed as a reminder of the prayer commitment.

"We know that God desires a better future for the Iraqi people," Haggard said. "He wants their children to have medical care and an education that will help them contribute positively to others in the world.

"He wants them well fed. He wants them to worship in freedom and without intimidation," Haggard continued. "He wants them to be able to discuss the big issues of life like family, government, faith and future without fear. He wants to bless them."

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNSNews.com that, based on the information on the coalition's website, he finds nothing wrong with the effort.

"What I'm seeing is they say they're going to pray for cities and people in Iraq," Hooper added. "If all they do is pray, you can hardly fault that."

In addition to the prayer commitment, those who feel led to do so can contribute to World Relief, the humanitarian aid arm of the NAE.

Rear Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer (ret.), executive director of World Relief, said two assessment teams are currently in Iraq gathering information that will be needed for relief efforts.

"They have looked in places other than Baghdad, [and] we're finding that it's not a humanitarian problem, there's not a humanitarian disaster," he said, "but there are needs because there's plenty of underdevelopment. There's plenty of poverty."

World Relief plans to work with local Christian congregations in localities so that the aid is actually delivered to the Iraqi people by their neighbors rather than by Americans. Types of aid donations to the organization will provide could include school rehabilitation, procurement of educational materials, school feeding programs and food for patients in hospitals, depending on the needs expressed in meetings between World Relief advisors, local clergy and local civil officials.

"We're in the business of restoring communities, reconciling communities and helping people have a stable life," Ziemer explained. "Our motive is to help the Arabs help the Arabs. We're there as technical assistants."

Hooper said his view of Operation Iraqi Care could change, depending on the motives of the participants.

"If it's a group like Samaritan's Purse, that's headed by Franklin Graham - a man who says that Islam is evil - that's one thing," Hooper explained. "If it's a group that's going in to help people and not proselytize vulnerable populations, then that's another."

Haggard said that having the local congregations distribute the aid to their fellow Iraqis should ease the concerns of Muslims like Hooper.

"We're not going to send Americans to Iraq to distribute these things," he said. "We, as Christians, want to help people. We don't want to cause confusion by bringing up other issues that really aren't our primary objective."

Haggard noted that the desire for freedom, adequate food, clothing and shelter and a good education and better life for your children are neither "American" nor "Christian" desires.

"We believe that, since all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, they have a desire to be free," Haggard concluded. "They are deserving, inherently because they are human beings, of basic civil liberties."

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