If anyone understands persecution, it would be Rev Canon Dr Andrew White.
Previously a vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad, the only Anglican church in Iraq, he experienced persecution every day when the Lord called him to the Middle East in the early 2000s.
Taking the stage at Kingdom Invasion‘s third and final session under its Trilogy theme this year, the former Vicar of Baghdad addressed over 400 people this morning at the Singapore Expo Max Atria.
“…out of death and destruction comes the glory of God.”
Canon White started the day with a unique blessing in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke and also the language he used when he was serving in Iraq. He then opened his Bible to Romans 8:35-37.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)
“I speak to you as one who has lived with a church which has suffered and has been persecuted,” he said sombrely, recalling how he has had over 170 of his staff killed over the years of his work in the war-torn nation.
Canon White also shared about how he was once kidnapped during his time in Iraq – in his own words, “not very well” because the kidnappers had left his cell phone on him – which allowed him to switch on his phone light, only to see severed fingers and toes scattered around the room where he was kept hostage.
Yet despite having witnessed and experienced severe trauma and violence firsthand, the 55-year-old minister still exuded a deep joy that spread across the room. As he held up a cross made of two nails that he wore around his neck, he shared about this joy: Knowing he always has the Lord with him.
The cross is a reminder of the bombing of the Coventry Cathedral in England in 1940 during World War II. The cathedral was completely destroyed, but the only things that remained were the nails from its roof. These nails were later collected and welded together to form crosses to remember the tragedy.
“The cross of nails,” Canon White explained, “is a symbol that out of death and destruction comes the glory of God.”
He continued with the story of how after the destruction of the cathedral, the dean of the place had written two words on its remaining walls, “Father, forgive”. And when people pointed out that he should have written, “Father, forgive them“, the dean corrected them with this simple truth: “We all need to be forgiven.”
This is the story that has kept Canon White going. We all need to be forgiven.
“As I go around my work today, I say: ‘Father, forgive’,” he said. “The biggest challenge we have today is: How do we deal with our enemies?”
“Who is your enemy? It is the person whose story you have not heard. So, fundamental to our work is actually hearing the story of the other.”
He said: “So often we think we can find the solution by just having a quick chat; everyone is into having quick chats nowadays. But that’s not God’s way.
“There may be quick solutions and God can provide quick answers, but the journey towards reconciliation is a very long journey.”
When you bring that story of the other towards your position, that is where you find healing and reconciliation, Canon White concluded, referencing a story of how he had once brought multiple leaders from various tribes together to talk and sort out their differences.
Today, he continues to engage in the work of interfaith reconciliation and conflict resolution, facilitating dialogues between religious and political leaders within the Middle East and around the globe.
“So much of our work is just hearing the stories of the other,” he said, even in a war zone, even in great suffering.
Canon White ended his sermon with a reading of Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
He smiled at the crowd. “May we know victory.”
Rev Canon Dr Andrew White will be speaking again this evening at Kingdom Invasion at 7.30pm at Singapore Expo Max Atria. Entry is free and all are invited.
- Are there any enemies you need to reconcile with today?
- How can we pray and support those who are undergoing persecution?
- How can we prepare ourselves for persecution?