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Wissam Al-Aethawi preaches the Gospel to an audience of recent Arab immigrants in Dearborn
In the Word
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A journey to baptism through Fallujah

When I almost died, unbaptized, in Fallujah.

Recently, the Iraqi army launched an offensive to retake Fallujah, Iraq, from the Islamic State.

In 2004, another massive offensive by U.S. troops liberated the city, which is 40 miles to the west of my hometown of Baghdad. I was a civil engineer at the time, and the Department of Public Works assigned me and another engineer to restore public services, assess the damage to the city’s sewage system and to choose a piece of land for the new Fallujah’s Sewerage Office. We worked with two local engineers. Wissam Al-Aethawi

The city is — or was — known to be very rich, very religious. And even the National Rifle Association would say that they have too many guns. When we arrived, it was quiet, scary and dead. Its fancy buildings had big holes, its mosques’ minarets were lying on the ground. The city’s fortunate people had abandoned it. There wasn’t any traffic. Kids had to step over fallen bricks to go to their school. Its roof had fallen to the floor.

We used our leveling devices and measuring tapes to gather data. Then we went to one of the few surviving shish kabob restaurants to have lunch.

On our way to the sewage lifting station, we encountered a traffic jam. Even the local engineers were surprised to see that many cars in one place in the post-apocalyptic city. It turned out to be a U.S. Army check point — specifically for us. Related Article: The long road from Baghdad The soldiers motioned to us to drive into an abandoned alley between two factories, open the doors, step out of the car, put our hands in the air and “Put your faces on the (expletive) wall!”

Oh! They saw us taking measurements and they thought we were preparing for a mortar attack.

I had one thought in my mind as I stared at the ugly concrete block wall touching my nose — probably the last thing I’d ever see. In a few seconds I would face a holy God who would not be happy with most of what I did in my life.
“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16, NKJ)
Six years had passed since, after studying the Bible, I had come to realize that Jesus is the Messiah. I had searched and searched but couldn’t find someone willing to baptize me.

Would God be OK with that?

“Sir, my hand is tired, can I lower my bag?” I asked, trying to sound as American as I could.

“You speak English?” the soldier replied.

A few minutes and a couple of radio calls later, they apologized to us and set us free.

Six years later, near Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, I came across another U.S. Army checkpoint. Soldiers searched the 11-passenger minivan I was traveling in from Baghdad to northern Iraq.

“What are you up to?” the soldier asked.

“I’m on my way to be baptized. Don’t tell anyone,” I said in my usual, playful tone. Hours later, in a hotel bathtub, I was baptized into Christ.

WISSAM AL-AETHAWI, a former Iraqi soldier and engineer who grew up Muslim, is a Christian missionary to the heavily Arab community of Dearborn, Mich. A graduate of Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, he serves on the ministry staff of Sunset Church of Christ in Taylor, Mich., southwest of Dearborn. 

Filed under: In the Word Insight

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