After the Gulf Wat, the Kurds of Northern Iraq were offered protection from Saddam Hussein by the American government. Saddam, a Muslim, murdered hundreds of thousands of Kurds and gassed their villages while the Islamic world stood by and watched. America, which is perceived as a Christian nation, stopped the genocide.
Most of the people who then came to help rebuild Kurdistan were Christians. While some missionaries left the region during difficult times, those who remained were presented with one of the greatest opportunities of modern missions.
Servant Group International has a philosophy of missions that is somewhat unique in the Muslim world. We believe God would have us proclaim Christ openly and encourage converts to do likewise. We also want new churches to be openly functioning fellowships that seek to affect all spheres of the society in which they live. It is great to have believers worshiping and praying together, but they can also be actively influencing their governments, education systems, community businesses, the arts, and every domain of their land.
Our goal in the Muslim world is to see entire nations brought under the influence of God's laws and principles, thereby bringing glory to His name in lands that rightly belong to Him. Since 1992 we have been building a model which would exemplify this approach. It has been difficult at times and even extremely dangerous, but the model has been successful.
For example, in 1992, there were no believers in Northern Iraq, which was nearly 100% Muslim. Today there are believing fellowships in all major cities, two major radio stations broadcasting the gospel eight hours a day, three printing presses turning out thousands of Christian books in local languages, and five Christian book stores.
The local church, known as the National Protestant Evangelical Church, led by Pastor Yousif Matty, is becoming a powerful force in the nation.
After many battles, the church has won recognition by the local government and seen Christians elevated to some of the most powerful positions in the country. The government has even given land to build churches and ministry centers. In time, we believe the church will become the most influential entity in the country.
We believe God is calling Servant Group International to build upon what we have learned, and apply these principles in other Muslim countries as well. We are excited about SGI's new work in Turkey among the earthquake victims.
Pastor Yousif’s Testimony:
I grew up in an Eastern Rite Catholic Church. I spent ten years as a conscript in Saddam Hussein's army as a radar technician in both the Iran/Iraq war and the Gulf War. I spent most of my time reading novels and drinking. My brother-in-law became a born-again believer and representative of Campus Crusade in Baghdad. He visited me to share Christ with me. He left a Bible for me to read, which held my complete interest for months. It was not long after that I decided to surrender my life to Jesus Christ. My wife had already become a believer. I believed that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins and that He rose from the dead, proving that He is God ... that He is Lord and that His Word, the Bible, should be obeyed by His followers.
After being discharged from the army I went to live in Kirkuk with my family and took a job as a geological engineer. One evening, I heard shooting and when I went outside to see what was going on, I realized Saddam's army was attacking the Kurdish section of the city. Saddam has always hated the: Kurds, who live mostly in the north of Iraq. The north became semi-independent after the Gulf War and to this day is protected by America. Kirkuk is in the south in the section Saddam still controls. I felt sorry for the Kurds that night and began to pray for them. God spoke to my heart and told me I must do more than pray. I believed He wanted me to go to the north and help them in some way.
I resisted at first because I knew this would be very dangerous. But I could not rest until I said yes to the Lord. I loaded some New Testaments in a taxi which was allowed to carry passengers to the north and back. That day I handed out thirty New Testaments to strangers in the street. I was very afraid, because most of these people were Muslims and I feared they might become angry. However, I found out they were very open and were happy to accept the Bibles. They had been attacked many times by their Muslim “brothers” like Saddam Hussein. As a result, they wanted to hear about Jesus and the way of salvation. Over the months I made many trips to the north.
One night a friend from the government came to my house and told me I must leave immediately with my family since Saddam's secret police had discovered what I was doing and were going to arrest me that night. I told my wife she had five minutes to get ready. She packed a bag and got the children ready. I gave the keys to my house and car to friends and told them we would never return. We then went in the night by taxi to the north.
After awhile we felt that God was leading us to live in the city of Dohuk and start a church. We asked many people to rent us a building but no one would give one to us for this purpose. Finally we found a large building that was vacant in the center of the city. The owner said he would be glad to rent it to us. It turns out that an entire family had been brutally murdered in this place. Their heads were cut off by Saddam's secret police and blood was spread everywhere. The people believed the house was haunted and were glad to rent it to us because no one else would have it.
We started our first church in this building. God has blessed us over the years. We now have sent missionaries to other cities to plant churches and start Christian book stores. In Dohuk we have over 150 believers. In Zhako there are 50, in Erbil 75, and in Sulymania more than 75. All of these fellowships have been started by missionaries from our church in Dohuk.
Over the years we have experienced much persecution. My life has been threatened many times and my church and home have been repeatedly attacked. My close friend and missionary from our church in Dohuk was murdered in one of our bookstores. Recently we have had brothers kidnapped and beaten. In spite of all this, our believers are standing firm in the Faith, and many in the community now respect us. The government has finally started to protect us and has even given us land to build new churches in Arbil and Sulymania.
We thank God for all the support we have received and by God's grace we believe our nation will one day become Christian again as it was years ago.