‘A Greater Freedom’ in Iraq depicted by book’s photo essays

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--War stories abound in the media these days about death, destruction and desperation in Iraq.

“Many of my media colleagues seem intent on ... confirming that troop morale is suffering or proving that our efforts to bring democracy to Iraq are fraught with failure,” FOX news correspondent and best-selling author Oliver North wrote in the forward of “A Greater Freedom: Stories of Faith from Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Most reporters are blinded to the fact that American soldiers are offering Iraqis the hope of freedom and of celebrating their own faith, North, a retired Marine officer, wrote. They also ignore “the daily acts of Christian charity and compassion that are part and parcel of everyday activity for these young Americans.”

North served as executive editor for “A Greater Freedom,” a photo essay of Christian men and women who are risking their lives in Iraq. But the predominance of the work was done by Sara Horn, a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources’ corporate communications in Nashville, and Jim Veneman, a photojournalist at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

Horn and Veneman twice ventured to the war zone representing Baptist Press to document how Christian servicemen and women handle war.

“I went because I felt this was something God called me to do,” Horn said. “I didn’t seek out any of this. I believe the stories we brought back can minister to people –- whether they are soldiers themselves, family members of soldiers or even people with no connection to the military.

“We all face struggles every day that test our faith. I think that if men and women who are literally put in harm’s way, like our military, can keep a strong faith, then what’s our excuse not to here in America?”

In March 2003, Horn and Veneman documented stories of Christian Navy personnel aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the east Mediterranean Sea. In November 2003, they traveled to Baghdad where they followed an Army Reserve unit attached to the 1st Armored Division and an Army regiment in the 82nd Airborne.

The stories and photos range from a young Navy man who received Christ on the Truman and was baptized in a metal munitions container to an Iraqi pastor who had risked his and his family’s lives to spread the Gospel through an illegal media ministry based in his home.

Veneman, in a note to Baptist Press, told of what he had experienced one day aboard the aircraft carrier: "[The day] began before the sun came up and has yet to end. As long as our days have been, the guys on this ship work just as long, work far harder -- and don't get to go home next week.

"You'll see from the images that we had a variety of experiences. What a range of photographs! From worship and prayer to flight operations, from jet engine repair and testing to lives being repaired through 'Experiencing God,' a lot happened before our eyes today."

Horn said she finds it difficult to choose a favorite story from the book. “I love the story of the Navy aviator who flew night missions the first week of the war. Most pilots can be pretty cocky as we saw on the ship, but this one was extremely humble and really relied on God, not himself, to get through.”

She also liked the story of the baptism. “This was special because it was a first for the ship and it’s always exciting to see someone follow in the step of faith, particularly a sailor in front of all his peers.”

After some thought, Horn added that one story has touched her heart more than the others -- the Iraqi pastor with whom she retains e-mail contact.

“This man was arrested by Saddam’s agents before the war for having a media ministry that stretched throughout Iraq,” Horn said. “Now that the war is officially over, he’s started a church and is actively trying to minister to his fellow Iraqis, a witness to God’s love and protection on him and his family. If anyone has doubts to why coalition forces invaded Iraq, they need to read this man’s story.”

Horn said her standard question to Christian soldiers was: “Has your faith been tested here?” Most said it had grown stronger. “Some of the soldiers even said they were grateful for the circumstances of being in war because it caused them to rely heavier on God.” Exceptions, she said, included two medics who had seen friends killed.

Horn acknowledged, “I’ve never prayed harder the night we took off out of Baghdad with the high chance that a missile might shoot us out of the sky. But the closest I felt to Him was when we were attending this Iraqi worship service in this old Anglican church in the middle of Baghdad.

“Seeing these Iraqi Christians, many of them new believers since the combat phase ended, worshiping with hands and voices raised, was powerful. I felt like God was saying in a really clear way, ‘This is the greater freedom -– to worship freely without fear.’ And it’s a freedom He wants everyone in the world to have. It’s not reserved just for us.”

A Greater Freedom, published by Broadman & Holman, the trade book division of LifeWay Christian Resources, is available at LifeWay Christian Stores and online at lifewaystores.com.


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BAGHDAD, IRAQ and A GREATER FREEDOM.

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