• PERSIAN GULF \ Dec 09, 2002
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    Pastor wants to start Baptist church in Baghdad
Pastor wants to start Baptist church in Baghdad
TORONTO (BP)--Finally, the missiles stopped falling from the sky as the 1991 Persian Gulf War came to an end.

The Iraqi army, which had invaded neighboring Kuwait so confidently the year before, was disintegrating under the pressure of American and other Allied forces sent to extract Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces from the tiny Persian Gulf nation.

For weeks, American bombs and missiles rained incessantly on Iraq's capital of Baghdad and other cities. But with the war over, Salaam Jaro, now pastor of Arabic Baptist Church in Toronto, saw the time was right to flee his native Iraq to a safer place.

"The Lord has saved me so many times," Jaro said in a recent telephone interview. "I knew he had to have some special purpose for my life."

Prior to the war, Jaro completed the mandatory two years of service in the Iraqi army before taking a job in a weapons manufacturing plant in Baghdad. He had worked at the plant for six years when the war began.

As a military installation, Jaro's work place soon became a target for American missiles. Although bombs struck the plant several times, miraculously he was not on duty during any of the attacks.

"At other times I was at places which were bombed right after I left," he said. "Some people I knew in the Iraqi armed forces said they saw bombs coming down in a location right after I walked away."

Jaro not only endured hardship personally, but his wife, Hiva, gave birth to their son during the war in a hospital with no electricity, natural gas, water or other items normally deemed essential to medical facilities.

With gasoline supplies cut off in Baghdad, Jaro even had to drive his wife to the hospital in a car powered by a mixture of oil and propane. For water, people were forced to collect whatever liquid they could from the streets.

"A lot of the water was yellowish, and you had to boil it before you could use it," he said. "It felt like shampoo on your head."

A short time after the war ended, Jaro decided it was time to flee Iraq. Along with his wife Hiva, their two daughters and newborn son escaped across the Turkish border, where they spent three days in a refugee camp.
From Turkey, they made their way by boat to Greece. There, Jaro worked for three years in a factory making food for dogs, horses and other animals. In 1994, when the Canadian Embassy in Athens allowed them to move to Canada as refugees, they jumped at the chance.

Canada was where he met Abraham Al-Rihi, a former Arabic Baptist Church pastor who now serves as a missionary to South Asia, and through him, the Lord.

Jaro grew up in a Catholic family -- according to statistics from various Catholic sources, about 276,000 Catholics, mainly Chaldean, Syrian and Armenian, live in Iraq. He also attended two years of Catholic seminary in Iraq and had even spent time studying Islam and the Koran.

"I had never known about Jesus Christ as Lord before," he said. "I had never heard that God sent His Son to die on the Cross for me to take away my sins."

After becoming a Christian, Jaro said he felt God stretching him to accomplish things he never before felt capable to do. After some time in Toronto, Al-Rihi told Jaro his heart was really in international missions and he asked Jaro to assume the pastorate at the Arabic church. Jaro at first hesitated.

"You'll never be ready in 100 years," Jaro recalled Al-Rihi saying. "But when you are weak, that's good. God can use you."

In addition, Jaro sensed God's call in the request.

"God seemed to be saying that he didn't call us to a comfortable life, but to a life of sacrifice and struggle for his sake," Jaro said.

Jaro estimated conservatively that 100,000 Muslims live in the Toronto area.

For the present, he said the likelihood of another war in Iraq concerns him.

"If this war leads to Saddam Hussein being deposed, that will be great," he said. "If it mainly affects the people of Iraq, that would be tragic."

Despite the uncertainty in his native land, his goal for the future takes him back to Iraq.

"My dream is to start the first Baptist church in Baghdad," he said. "That is my vision."