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Faith Under Fire: What the Middle East Conflict Has Taught Me About God Paperback – May 9, 2011
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an inspiring, awesome, concise read, warmly commended across cultures, genders and generations. * English Churchman * To win the Ultimate Christian Library award, a book must grab the average non-Christian reader at first sight. This year's winner, Andrew White's, does this and more, gripping the reader from its very first word. -- D Margaret Keeling * Librarians' Christian Fellowship * `This is a very moving book which shows how this man give his life to God through faith, determination and courage whilst suffering from multiple sclerosis. Definitely worth reading.' -- Barbara Gardner * The Lance *
About the Author
Canon Andrew White, the vicar of St George's Church in Baghdad, has extensive experience of conflict mediation in Iraq and the wider Middle East. President and CEO of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, launched in 2005, he has written extensively about conflict resolution and has been involved in many hostage negotiations.
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If your idea of God is something to criticize at the cocktail party or a warm feeling you have when you drink your latte while shopping at your mega church you need to read this. The book will open up your eyes. You will see God is very real and at work in world. He is more than the trials of finding the right Sunday football game on TV or the right parking spot at the mega church. We aren't in tune with God like Andrew is so we miss seeing God at work. I hope thousands of people get the chance to read this book. It will change your definition of God. God is more than an abstract thought or warm feelings. This book of stories about Andrew White shows that.
The book explains who Andrew White is. You learn how he got involved in the ministry and how he got into Iraq. His stories in this book sort of pick up from his previous book "Vicar of Baghdad". His antidotes of operations in incredible adversity reveals something. They reveal various acts of God.
These stories are just as incredible as Paul and Peter's adventures detailed by Luke in the book of Acts. For example his operation needs $175,000 a month to operate. Somehow God provides and the money comes in. Scores of people in Andrew's church have been killed for their faith. Last year 93 people in his church were martyred for their faith. One week he mentions that he baptized 13 people. Eleven of those 13 were dead a week later. One bomb exploded outside of his church killing 144 people. Andrew White himself has been kidnapped and threatened with death. In the middle of this his church continues to grow. It is now the biggest church in Iraq.
God is working in all of that. Andrew White has very interesting stories of Angels around him, just like Peter in Acts. There are even pictures. At the same time Andrew White is put in the position to communicate the love of Christ to people who otherwise would not hear of Christianity. One example of this is how Andrew was able to work with a founder of the group Hamas Sheikh Tlal Sidr, converting him from a war maker to a peace maker. Andrew has a great chapter in how the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon him he fruits of the Spirit and how he has used those things in the real world.
This book is about more than Andrew White in a bad situation. It is about God at work in a bad situation. The book will be both enjoyable and build your faith.
Vicar White's main argument in Faith Under Fire is that God's presence is strong at work in Iraq, both despite and because of the challenges of living amidst violent persecution. His eyewitness account and relationships with local Iraqis build a story that reinforces his faith in God's power.
As a doctor, Vicar White's medical background allows him to recognize the immediate physical needs of his congregation when he opens a clinic in St. George's Church. Mentors are another strong influence in Vicar White's life. Several times, he quotes the Archbishop of Canterbury in what had become a life motto for him: "Don't take care, take risks." (15) By far, the most influential source in Vicar White's life and writing is the Bible. When he is kidnapped, or a child dies despite much prayer, or he sees wanted posters with his picture all over the city, Vicar White goes back to Scripture to seek God's peace and answers.
The organization of the book is very deliberate and reveals the author's values. Chapters 1 and 2 are devoted to demonstrating Vicar White's journey, from medical and theological training to getting married, and a great shift in the story when he discovers he is very ill. This segment will later show the reader how God's path for Vicar White was preparing him precisely for his future in Baghdad. While many readers might expect the book to be consumed with a description of murders and kidnappings, these aspects only come out from Chapter 4 onward. Even at that point, Vicar White's description of events includes an overarching focus on the strength of believers at St. George's Church and God's faithfulness amidst tragedy.
The remainder of the book is interspersed with stories connected to its main themes. The most recurrent theme, evident in the title, is the pervasiveness of fire or heat. It often appears in the book as the threat of violent persecution, but at other times is the literal heat in Iraq's climate that ironically improves the author's medical condition. It appears in yet a different context when the author points to the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as the first appearance of Christ on earth. (132) Coping with mortality is also a major theme, demonstrated both through Vicar White's personal illness and the murders of parishioners. Manifestations of the supernatural are a fascinating theme that comes up in the form of miracles, premonitions in dreams, and the physical presence of images like wheels in the air.
By Chapter 11, Vicar White presents a call to action for readers to support St. George's Church. He stresses the urgency of the ongoing crisis in Iraq and quotes a church member saying, "Don't the other Christians in the world care about us?" This urgency is felt strongly in an Epilogue that describes the massacre at Our Lady of Deliverance that took place in 2010. (130) The Conclusion engages the book of Habbakuk, in which Habbakuk looks on the destruction of his country and wonders how God can let it happen. In a final statement that summarizes Vicar White's experience in Baghdad, he says "The heat of the fire is intense here, but so is the joy of the Lord." (159)
Overall, Faith Under Fire is a phenomenal account of trusting God amidst a lifestyle of constant crisis. The Scripture Vicar White presents in the book goes far beyond a feel-good discussion of Christianity and leads the reader through a series of hard life lessons that all people face, presenting how to work through them spiritually. Vicar White's book left me feeling challenged and inspired to broaden my perception of God's capability and tune my ears more to His voice and direction in my life. It was convicting to read how Vicar White sacrificed his personal privacy, the comforts of his homeland and time with his family to give all he had to God's call in his life. In the same vein, it was convicting to read about Iraqis sacrificing their lives to declare their faith in the Gospel.
I was disappointed that Vicar White did not dwell more on his parishioners. He defines them so much by the violence and persecution that constrains them, but does not clearly show the more personal side of their competencies outside of the church building. When I first picked up the book, I was hoping to learn more about Iraqis' family and social lives, professional goals, personal hopes and accomplishments. It is possible that the vicar of such a huge congregation, especially in such a tight security environment, would have limited access to in-depth conversation or interviews with every single parishioner.
While Vicar White devotes much time to praising the faith and strength of his parishioners, there are a few points in the book where he seems to privilege his culture as superior and make broad generalizations. In one example, he refers to the difficulties of working with "disorganized Arab culture." (154) Instead of recognizing competing values such as expediency versus thoroughness or single policy versus situational consensus, he makes a value judgment patronizing how Iraqis do business. His statement also ignores the fact that Iraq is partly non-Arab (Kurdish), and that Arabs in different countries have unique cultures. I do not think that Vicar White consciously implies any of the above, but his words could have the unintended effect of harming his credibility with readers that have ties to the region.
These points, while distracting in the text, are not representative of the entire book. In fact, they deviate from an overwhelmingly warm depiction of Iraqi Christians, as well as a hope and dedication to a better future for their country.