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Sharing the gospel is the mission for most Christians, but doing it in a war-torn country is taking that duty quite a bit further. That is what a group of Truett-McConnell College students did over the Thanksgiving holiday.
On Nov. 17, the director for World Mission College at TMC and four Truett-McConnell students set out on a journey to Iraq to spread the gospel.
Because of the volatile nature of the region, and to protect the host family, the missionaries' identities are protected and the exact location of their stay was not identified.
The students are planning a return trip later this year, the mission director said. The college wants to ensure safe passage for the missionaries.
The director said Thanksgiving was the best time to meet with university students abroad, and none of the TMC students thought twice about giving up their holiday to spread the faith.
Even the students' parents, who for the most part weren't thrilled at the idea of their children going to Iraq, understood and weren't going to tell God "no" said the director.
The mission team's assignment on the trip was to tell the story of Christ with anyone who would listen. And they ended up not only sharing that story, but hearing stories of the Iraqis' lives as well.
After the missionaries landed, the director said Iraqi military presence was a constant reminder that "they weren't in Kansas anymore."
The students set out to share God's work in public markets, university cafes, public parks, restaurants, ice cream parlors and pool halls, all hot spots targeted in the past by suicide bombers. The ice cream shop became a daily place to meet, and even with Bibles in plain view, the shop's owners never interfered.
More than once, team members would be on the street with an open Bible while military police with AK47s walked by to see what was going on, though they generally left them alone.
The director said at no time did the team feel they were in immediate danger, but as a frequent world traveler, he keeps his finger on the pulse of nations in turmoil, most recently Egypt and Jordan. He said he would never put a missionary in harm's way needlessly. But he also understands it is "the world we live in."
And for Iraqi Christians, the danger is ever present. Iraqi Christians are in constant fear for their safety, even at times from their own family.
One Iraqi believer the missionaries met, said the director, had found the faith and turned his back on Islam. His mother, who encouraged him to come back to Islam, asked the village imam for guidance. The imam instructed the man's mother to kill her son in his sleep. The mother even warned her son of her plans if he continued on the Christian path.
The students were awestruck, said the director, as they prayed with the man. He did not pray for protection from his mother; rather, he prayed for her to find Christ. The man now must go to a Christian family for help reading the Bible; he is not allowed to own one. It's just another risk an Iraqi Christian must take to follow Christ.
The students met with numerous Muslim university students in the city and continued an open dialogue to learn about the culture and Islam, and only shared the word of Christ when asked by the university students who were curious about American Christians.
The director said being honest and open makes everyone more receptive and eager to share their stories. The missionaries have continued to correspond via e-mail with the Muslim students. A partnership between TMC and the Iraqi university may even be in the works according to the director, who got the chance to meet with the university's Muslim president.
Overall, the trip had a positive impact on the missionaries. One TMC student, the director said, has even decided to move to Iraq when he graduates next year. There is a waiting list for the next trip, but smaller groups move more easily through the country than do larger ones.
Taking the word of God to faraway lands is nothing new for many of the students at Truett-McConnell.
"But the real heroes are the believers living on the front lines daily, standing firmly on the word of God," the director said.