(IPS) LONDON --
in secrecy and under the guise of humanitarian aid, American missionaries, mainly evangelicals, are pouring into the predominantly Muslim Iraq, fearing the now "open door" may be soon closed when an Iraqi government takes over power in six months' time, a mass-circulation British daily reported on December 27.
The goal now is spreading some one million Arabic bibles along with Arabic religious videos and tracts throughout Iraq, after only 8,000 copies were circulated in their last missions, said The Telegraph.
The evangelical missionaries, who believe that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, are championing the future missions along with the International Mission Board (IMB), the missionary arm of the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in America.
"Southern Baptists have prayed for years that Iraq would somehow be opened to the gospel," said John Brady, the IMB's head for the Middle East and North Africa, in an appeal to the 16 million members of his church.
"Southern Baptists must understand that there is a war for souls under way in Iraq," he added.
In public, the groups put the emphasis on their delivery of food parcels and their medical work. However, their internal fund-raising materials emphasize mission work, said the British daily.
One IMB bulletin said Iraqis understood "who was bringing the food... It was the Christians from America."
Another bulletin said that aid workers were handing out copies of the New Testament.
The paper added that Southern Baptists from North Carolina visited Iraq in October to circulate 45,000 boxes of donated food.
"Children starved of attention and I could tell some of them have not eaten well. But their biggest need is to know the love of Christ," said Jim Walker, one of the Baptists.
Jon Hanna, an evangelical minister from Ohio who has recently returned from Iraq, applied for a new passport to travel there, describing himself as a humanitarian worker.
"I was worried the U.S. authorities might try to stop us, might be worried we were going to start a riot with our Bibles," he told The Telegraph.
Hanna underlined that an American passport is all one needs to enter Iraq.
"A U.S. passport is all you need to get in, until the new Iraqi government takes over. What we thought was a two-year window, originally, has narrowed down to a six month window," said Hanna, referring to the anticipated handover of power to the Iraqis.
Under an agreement between U.S. administrator Paul Bremer and the U.S.-selected Iraqi Governing Council unveiled last November, a provisional Iraqi government is to be formed by June, named by a transitional assembly to be elected by the end of May.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on November 16 that the plan would have no effect on U.S. military presence in the country.
Describing Islam as "false" and "antichrist" religion, Hanna, along with other missionaries, went on training courses on how to proselytize Arab Muslims before visiting Iraq.
Last month, Hanna had met two other American missionary teams in Baghdad.
One of the two teams, from the American state of Indiana, had shipped in 1.3 million Christian tracts, according to the British paper.
Jackie Cone, 72, a Pentecostalist grandmother from Ohio, who visited Iraq along with Hanna, argued that some Iraqis she met there had converted to Christianity.
She recalled a conversation with a Kurdish Muslim woman, who was to undergo a leg surgery that day, saying that she had prayed for her that the operation would not be required.
"I saw her that evening and she said God had healed her, and she hadn't needed the surgery. She didn't say Allah, she pointed to Heaven and gave God the glory," said Cone, who claimed that God had told her to join a second mission planned for January.
She further said that she led the woman and her brother in prayer.
"I'd given them a Bible and a Jesus video in Arabic. I think they think of themselves as Christians now," she claimed.
"They have the Bible and I hope they will grow in grace."
On March 28, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse said "workers" were on the Iraqi-Jordanian borders were ready to go in as soon as it is safe.
Graham, an outspoken critic of Islam who once called it a "wicked" religion, had also said he has relief workers "poised and ready" to go into Iraq to provide for the populations post-war "physical and spiritual needs."
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