In This City is a challenge to journey with us in prayer for 12 key cities in 2019. We ask you to commit to praying for fruit that will ripen and bear the seeds for mature, vibrant and multiplying churches across the Arab world. Find out more in this article from the leader of Pioneers’ Middle East Region.

Baghdad city

© rasoulali / Shutterstock.com

Introduction

With a population of more than eight million, Baghdad is the second largest city in the Arab world. Located on the Tigris River, it is the capital of a nation that gave birth to Abraham and Nebuchadnezzar, to ancient Assyria and ancient Babylon.

Before it became known as a place of battle and bloodshed, Baghdad was a thriving capital of the Islamic empire. In the Middle Ages, it was a centre for learning and culture and a place where Christians helped Muslims to translate and preserve the Greek classics of philosophy and science in the famed underground publishing house, Dar al-Hikma(House of Wisdom).

But sadly, the glories of Baghdad’s past are offset by its tragic history. It has always been at the crossroads of world power, having been devastated by many invasions, from the Mongols to the Americans.

About Baghdad

Population: >8.7 million

Religion: 97% Muslim, Sunni and Shia; 1.3% Christian (1.1% Catholic and Orthodox, 0.2% evangelical Christian)

Ethnic groups: Arab, Kurdish, Turkoman, Assyrian, Chaldean

Geographical size: 78.8 sq miles / 204 sq kilometres

Location: Central

Key historical events: The building of Baghdad began in 762 AD. It was designed by Caliph Al Mansur and was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate in the years 762-796, 809-836 and 892-1258. Baghdad was besieged and sacked by the Mongols in 1258. It was a centre for learning during the eighth and ninth centuries. It was under Ottoman rule from 1534 until the establishment of Iraq under Britain in 1921. Baghdad was once the home of a monarchy, who were overthrown in 1958 by a military coup that marked the beginning of the modern Republic of Iraq.

Challenges

Baghdad, group of menThe people

A major challenge for the people of Baghdad is the monumental task of rebuilding their lives and nation. Decades of war and destruction have ravaged the country. The economy, the infrastructure, the national identity and the very fabric of society have been shattered.

Non-stop sectarian violence and persistent government corruption mean that Iraq is still recovering from the two Iraq wars (1990-91 and 2003-11). Because of this, many have left in search of greener pastures. Those who have stayed need to find a way to overcome the cycles of violence, prejudice and struggle for power, and unite to begin the slow, steady process of rebuilding their nation.

Man serving teaSeekers

Great numbers of Iraqi Muslims are seeking Christ. They are hearing about him through Christian radio and through the web. But it is a challenge to find people who can walk with these seekers and disciple them into mature followers of Christ who can, in turn, reach their families and communities.

Arab World Media has interaction with about 10 Baghdadi Muslims each month, many of whom have given their lives to Christ. Some of these are being followed up in the city.

Team just legsThe team

It is difficult for workers to get long-term visas in Baghdad as well as in other parts of southern Iraq. This makes it difficult to settle into any kind of ministry.

Prayer points

Pray that:

  • The people of Baghdad (and Iraq as a whole) will overcome the cycles of violence and corruption that prevent the country from healing.
  • Seekers and new believers will have the opportunity of receiving good discipleship. Pray that the Lord will raise up more Iraqi Christians and cross-cultural workers to disciple this new harvest. There is an incredible spirit of openness to Christ among Iraqi Muslims and people are coming to faith. Pray that the Lord would touch and transform the lives of these precious people to witness to their families and communities about the wonderful grace of Jesus Christ.
  • Teams will be able to find ways to remain in the city long term. In Baghdad there are not many visa options for foreigners, and those that exist are expensive and complex to obtain.
  • The relationship between evangelical churches and the older, historical Chaldean and Assyrian churches will heal. Currently, the non-evangelical churches see evangelical churches as a threat and have even engaged in measures to block their registration. Pray for reconciliation.
  • God will raise up Iraqi leaders to reach their city. The steady exodus of Christians from Baghdad includes Christian leaders. Please pray for Christian and Muslim background leaders to stay and reach their city and nation for Christ. Pray that Iraqi believers would lead a new generation of the Iraqi church in Baghdad and beyond.
  • The security situation would keep improving. The government has driven out ISIS and there has been a significant decrease in civilian deaths and bombings, but there are still some ISIS sleeper cells that occasionally plan attacks to undermine the government. Baghdad is pretty stable and when team members visited last year, they were able to go out on their own. They saw Iraqis returning to normal life, but government corruption leaves things in a fragile state.

One last thing…

Baghdad at sunset © rasoulali / Shutterstock.com

© rasoulali / Shutterstock.com

Our colleagues write:

‘Baghdad is a city with a bad stigma. But it is a city that God loves, filled with millions of souls for whom Christ died.

‘The prophet Jonah questioned God’s compassion for another city in Iraq: the city of Nineveh, which also had a terrible stigma. Nineveh was a place that represented moral chaos and hostility against God and his people. Despite the fact that the people of God had lost all hope and written it off, God loved that city, having compassion on its lost souls and even its animals!

‘Pray that the Lord would give us a glimpse of HIS heart for Baghdad, a truly great city, with its millions who have never heard the good news. Pray that the Lord’s great compassion would well up in the hearts of his church around the world, so much so that we would be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to bring that great love to the beloved people of Baghdad.’

Thank you for praying with us

Next month we pray for Jeddah, a large city in Saudi Arabia.