The Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White recalls the time he was kidnapped and locked in a dark room. Turning on his mobile phone for light, he saw that he was surrounded by severed toes and fingers. He managed to secure his release by bribing his captors.
Canon White has been dubbed the Vicar of Baghdad because he is in charge of St. George Anglican Church in the Iraqi capital, one of the most dangerous postings in the Communion. He was in Toronto recently to receive an honorary degree from Wycliffe College and to raise money for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
He said he had to leave Iraq several weeks ago because of repeated death threats and the advance of ISIS, the radical Islamic group that has become notorious for beheading its captives. He is currently living in England.
“Justin told me I was more valuable alive than dead, and I had to agree with him,” he said, referring to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Canon White was speaking at a prayer service for Christians in the Middle East at St. Paul, Bloor Street on Dec. 9. Well over 100 people attended the evening service and, at Canon White’s prompting, sang a rousing version of “Joy Down in My Heart.”
Canon White has multiple sclerosis and spoke while sitting in a chair at the front of the church. By turns witty and provocative, he challenged his audience to not only pray for Christians in the Middle East but also to give money to help them survive.
“Yes, pray for peace but also pay for peace,” he said. “We’re spending hundreds of thousands a month just feeding our people.”
His congregation, which once numbered in the thousands, has been greatly reduced due to killings, kidnapping and people fleeing for their lives. A large number fled to Nineveh, only to be trapped when ISIS captured the city four months ago. Many were killed or forced to convert to Islam. Those who escaped are scattered throughout the region.
He spoke about four youths who were shot to death by ISIS after saying they could not convert because they loved Jesus. “They were my children,” he said, pausing to compose himself. “I cry when our children are killed.”
Despite the persecution, Christians in Iraq have not lost hope, he said. “We have a saying: ‘When you’ve lost everything, you’ve got Jesus.’ And we’ve lost everything. We’re not sad – we have joy deep down in our hearts.”
He said Christians in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East need “protection, provision, perseverance and peace.” He urged Christians around the world to “keeping praying for us, keep believing in us.”
He asked those in attendance to financially support the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, of which he is the founder and president. The foundation exists to support his work at St George’s and reconciliation between people of all faiths in the region.