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Church planting in a war zone

By Paul Linzey

Easter at Camp Echo near Diwaniyah, Iraq, started with a great worship service as two people gave their lives to the Lord. By day’s end it would become clear Jesus is the only one who can sustain us.

I was in my office that afternoon when three mortars exploded — first to my left, then to my right, and then right behind me. I ran down the hall with several others toward the bunker outside as rocks and shrapnel pelted the roof.

Following the all-clear signal, I rushed to the clinic and learned one soldier had been killed and four injured. Later that afternoon, I conducted a flight line funeral service with the unit before the serviceman was flown out. It was a heartwrenching sight.

Attacks are daily events. If it’s not mortars, it’s a rocket — or two or three. I have to wear my helmet and armored vest and be ready to run to the nearest shelter.

In my first six weeks here, we had several killed and many more injured. Numerous buildings have been destroyed, including our laundry facility. A lot of people are scared. It’s in this context I’m supposed to start a religious program?

I call it church planting in a war zone. We hold Sunday morning worship services, Tuesday evening Bible studies, a midweek men’s fellowship, and several small group meetings.

As chaplain, my duties include counseling, visitation, ministering in the hospital, and helping soldiers prepare for the transition from military to home life. I’ve had the privilege of leading many individuals to faith in Christ, while others have recommitted their lives to the Lord.

One Sunday, a Ukrainian officer came to church and asked us to pray for his diseased eyes. The doctor told him nothing could be done — he would eventually go blind.

The next Sunday, the officer reported his eyes had been healed by God. “I went back to the doctor, and he said the disease was gone,” he shared. He gave his heart to Jesus and faithfully attends our services and Bible studies.

But there are aspects of this environment that can tear you up if you don’t intentionally pursue time alone with God.

I’ve always known intellectually that everyone will eventually die, but to be walking to the dining facility and have a mortar land a half-block away brings home the truth of your mortality really fast!

I agree with what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21: “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

But I’d rather death didn’t come while I’m here in Iraq. I don’t want to lose an arm or leg, or my hearing or eyesight, yet these are real possibilities. I’ve seen it happen to others and have asked the Lord to help me overcome fear.

Loneliness is another challenge. I can’t do anything to change being away from my wife, children and friends. But I know the Lord is with me and has made a difference for me.

Bible reading, prayer and worship have been powerful sources of strength and encouragement. I once read, “When God gives us a God-size assignment, its sheer impossibility brings us back to Him for His enabling.”

I have found this true whether planting a church in a war zone or seeing other people fulfill God’s call on their lives where they live and work.

Chaplain PAUL LINZEY is an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God. He and Linda, his wife of 30 years, attend Trinity Fellowship Assembly of God in Sharpsburg, Ga.

TPExtra: Church planting video about Urban Outrach in East St. Louis, Ill.

4879 11/11/07

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