John Buckeridge wonders if hardship will make us or break us

How would you feel if you were the minister of a church where 93 men, women and children from your congregation were murdered last year? Stop and wrestle with that question before you move on…

That is a reality for one British pastor. Ninety three believers from St George’s, the Anglican church in Baghdad, were killed in 2008.

You’d imagine the minister, Canon Andrew White, would be a broken man. In some ways he is. His body is frail, he suffers from MS. Some years ago, while he was working at Coventry Cathedral, his condition worsened, which resulted in the Church of England telling him he was too ill to minister. Since then he has become the vicar of Baghdad! He is far from beaten. In fact he is often jovial and fond of practical jokes, as Justin Brierley discovered when he met him recently to interview him for this issue of Christianity magazine. In one of the most remarkable interviews we have ever published, White describes why, despite the murderous attacks, people are flocking to St George’s in such numbers that they are told to attend only once a weekend so everyone can fit in.

Despite so many killings, making death almost an everyday experience among his congregation, White believes God is ultimately in control and he continues to work for peace and reconciliation in a troubled region.

He says: “Every day in Iraq I see the presence of God,” and “it gives me hope that the future for the land where the world was created, in Eden, is either good, or it is in the end times,” although he concedes that he doesn’t know which it is.

Who knows what the future holds for any of us – least of all for Andrew White and his precious flock in Baghdad. But for today, as I write this, he is a living, contemporary example of the truth of God’s words given 2,000 years ago to Paul; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Many translations describe Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ from this scripture passage but I think Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase The Message captures it so much better. He calls it the ‘gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations’.

Each day you and I might face unexpected and unwelcome situations that threaten to overwhelm us. Perhaps right now you are facing limitations that cut you – abuse, recession, poor health, redundancy, broken promises, a longed for hope further delayed or even crushed completely. The way of Christ is to invite him to take over so the weaker we get, the stronger he becomes in us.

We may end up looking a fool in others’ eyes. But God loves and smiles on us whatever the pressure and wherever we face it, whether we are in Baghdad or Birmingham. My prayer for you is that as you read this issue of Christianity magazine it will feed you fresh words of life and strength for the month ahead.