Don’t Take Care, Take Risks: The Vicar of Baghdad

By Tanya Baleta, Communications Coordinator

Posted on December 12, 2014

I had the pleasure of meeting the Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White on December 8. I was his third interview of the day.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White phones many of his children every day. They number in the thousands – each one belonging to St. George’s Church in Baghdad, where he is the Vicar.

Many are now refugees, forced to flee their homes by the violent advance of ISIS. Others have been killed.

Canon White’s church in Baghdad was once 6,500 people strong. Four months ago 1,276 were killed. Increasing violence since then has made it hard to keep track of who is alive or dead. “In the last four months I have no idea how many have been killed,” he said in an interview. “Thousands.”

Canon White was recently in Toronto to baptise his grandson, Andrew, the child of his adopted son, Dawood. Canon White visited St. Paul’s on December 9 to speak about the plight of Christians in Iraq at our Evening of Prayer in Solidarity for Christians in the Middle East.

Weeks ago, at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Canon White fled Iraq with a $57 million bounty on his head. “Justin said to me, ‘Andrew, you’re more use to your people alive than dead. You’ve got to get out, now,’” recalled Canon White.

But the phone calls to his people reveal the extent of their suffering.

Recently Canon White received word of a family from his congregation. ISIS had turned up on their doorstep and rounded up their four children.

“They asked the children, ‘Will you believe in Islam and follow Mohammed?’ And the children took each other’s hands and said, ‘We love Yeshua, we have always loved Yeshua and Yeshua’s always loved us’ – so they shot each of them through the head.” His voice was heavy with emotion.

“Every time I say that story I nearly cry,” he said. “They were my children. My children.”

According to Dawood, Canon White is the type of person who never thinks about himself. “He concentrates on his people,” said Dawood in an interview. “If you call him at 2 o’clock in the morning he will pick up.”

Canon White’s church, school, clinic and relief program continue to function in his absence, providing support to those he has left behind. “If anybody does their job well it will function without them,” he said. But it was obvious he is pained by the separation. “How is it for me? Absolutely awful.”

Canon White has been working in Iraq since 1998. Since then he has undertaken relief and reconciliation efforts, in spite of numerous threats against his life.

“It’s the love of the children which keeps me going,” he said. “It’s pretty hopeless – but you have to have hope because it’s the very foundation of our faith.”

According to Canon White, American troops were withdrawn from Iraq far too soon. “In Saddam Hussein’s day you could walk down the street – you were fearful of the regime but you had liberty, you could function,” he explained. “Now you can’t do anything. After the war there was such jubilation, but things have been on a decline ever since.”

Now, he said, the only hope is troops on the ground. “All we can do is try and provide for the needs of the people in their desperate state,” he said. Iraqi refugees are in need of basic necessities such as food, health care, warmth and accommodation.

Canon White urges people to pray for peace and pay for peace. “We can’t pay to change the situation with ISIS,” he said. “All we can do is support those whose lives have been broken by ISIS.”

Last Sunday, before Canon White baptised his grandson, Dawood heard from a friend living in a refugee camp in the north. “His wife gave birth to a baby in the last ten days,” said Dawood. “And on Sunday the baby died because he froze. People are freezing.”

“Our Andrew’s baptised and this little boy has died,” said Canon White. “It’s very difficult.”

Though many Iraqi refugees have lost everything, they still have Jesus. In northern Iraq, refugees have set up a refugee tent displaying a nativity scene.

Though the situation appears hopeless, we have the opportunity to make a difference.

“Don’t take care, take risks,” said Canon White. “Tell people that. If you take risks you can make things happen. And we’ve got to make things happen.”

As part of our Advent Ask, St. Paul’s is currently raising money to provide emergency food and medical aid for victims of ISIS. Our goal is $35,000.

Donate to our Advent ask online or in person.

This article appeared in the December 14, 2014 edition of the What's Happening.