Safety concerns delay Iraq food box projects by at least two weeks
Don Hinkle and Mark Kelly
August 29, 2003
RICHMOND, Va. –Southern Baptist ministry projects in Iraq – including two involving Missouri Baptists — are being delayed for at least two weeks because of new concerns that remnants of Saddam Hussein’s faction are planning to target humanitarian workers in the country.
The first four shipping containers of food packed by Southern Baptist churches in late spring arrived in the country Aug. 21. Volunteer teams from Missouri and North Carolina were to begin arriving this weekend to begin distribution of the 46,000 boxes.
The decision to delay the arrival of volunteer teams was based on advice from the United Nations’ NGO Coordinating Council, which manages the work of nongovernmental relief and development groups in the country, a Baptist worker in Iraq said.
"The NGO Coordinating Council received information that the remnant of Saddam loyalists in the country were intentionally targeting NGO personnel for attacks," the worker said. "They felt it was best for humanitarian groups to keep a low profile and for new people not to come into the country."
Danger is not the issue, because Iraq has been a dangerous place to work all along, the worker noted. What has changed is the possibility that humanitarian workers might be targeted.
The Aug. 19 truck-bomb attack on the United Nations offices in Baghdad marked the first time a non-military humanitarian operation had been targeted since Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown in late March.
Several other nongovernmental organizations are taking similar steps in regard to their personnel, the worker said.
Southern Baptist workers in the Middle East asked for prayer that the delay in beginning ministry projects would be minimal.
"People need to pray because the majority of Iraqis are still positive toward us and open to our ministry," the worker said. "But if humanitarian workers are going to be singled out as targets, we must not put our people at greater risk than they would be already."
The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) announced Aug. 27 that a five-man team from Southern Baptist churches in St. Louis, scheduled to depart Aug. 28, and a second team of four scheduled to depart Sept. 12, have been postponed.
"We’re not taking any volunteers for at least two weeks and my expectation is it will be longer than two weeks," Roy Spannagel, associate executive director with the MBC said Wednesday. "We still have some IMB missionaries and our military in the country, so we need to continue to pray for them."
The two MBC teams were going to assist with the distribution of food boxes sent by Missouri Baptists to the war-torn country. The food arrived Aug. 21, IMB officials said.
"The food is in Baghdad and it will be distributed," Spannagel said. "We will continue to work on our plans for Iraq even though our volunteers cannot go at the moment."
He said five teams from MBC churches have made commitments to go to Iraq and that "we must continue to pray for the doors of safety to open and let us do our work."