LAKE FOREST, Calif. Veteran American Christian broadcaster Norm Nelson doesn't believe in sitting in a studio and being an armchair commentator. Instead, he literally covers the world for his daily radio program, Compassion Radio, which is carried across the United States and overseas, as well as streamed on the Web.
Fresh from his sixth visit to Iraq to meet believers there, Nelson discovered a "tremendous revival" in the northern area of the country, where he was invited to tour the Kurdish region. While there, Compassion Radio made a financial contributions to churches there, considered one of the safer areas.
"The Kurdish church there is very evangelistic in its outreach," Nelson, 68, said during a recent radio broadcast of Window on the World. "Its mentality is, 'God has given us an opportunity here; there's a great deal of openness towards the Gospel right now, so let's take advantage of this and spread the Gospel as widely as possible.'"
Nelson shared with the listeners that he entered the country through Irbil, the largest city in the Kurdish area.
"While I was there I had the opportunity to go up into the mountainswhen you think of Iraq you don't think of mountains but we went high up into the 10,000-foot peaks all around us to participate in a church picnic!
"During the picnic, I had the glorious experience of attending a baptism service held in the river that flows by the picnic site," Nelson said. "What a thrill that was.
"My feeling is that the really significant thing happening in Iraq is spiritual in nature. It is not political; it is not military, although those things impact the lives of the people both negatively and positively. But, the successful way in which God's people are communicating the gospel; reaching out to others in that part of Iraq as well as other parts of Iraq, is a signpost pointing to what God is doing. It's a very exciting time in Iraq in that regard."
Nelson said he was pleased to experience a much more friendly spirit in Irbil.
"In Kurdistan, Americans are heroes, although in other areas of the country, we're seen more as occupiers," he said. "It's kind of a mixed bag."
The atmosphere is much more tenuous in the city of Kirkuk, which he also visited.
"This city is the center of the oil industry in the Northern part of Iraq and it's ethnically diverse," he said. "Both Kurds and Arabs covet control of that large reserve of oil. The rivalry is intense (and) that could easily lead to military conflict. If that should occur, Kirkuk would become the center of a violent conflagration. We hope that doesn't happen, but it's very much possible. Whoever controls the oil controls the power in Iraq."
Even amid the uncertainty, Nelson said hope reigns.
"More to my interest, though, there is a marvelous evangelical church in Kirkuk that I had the opportunity to attend," he said, adding that the church was packed with worshippers.
"It was a beautiful and wonderful thing to see," he said. "The interesting thing is that when you consider the possibility of terrorism, here's a church that sits right out on the city street, without any protective wall around it … but thus far, they have been safe. The Lord has been preserving them and we're very grateful, as this is a powerful witness for the gospel right in the heart of the city of Kirkuk."
Despite the vast amount of military resources in the country, Nelson said he believes true reform will emerge apart from armies and bombs.
"I see no hope at all for a military or a political resolution to the situation," the ministry leaders said. "If you read Iraq's history, you realize that this was not destined to really become a country. If you go back to the early years of the 20th century and see the way the country of Iraq was put together, it's very clear that it was not put together for the benefit of the Arab people who lived in that area; it was put together more for the benefit of British and Western interests. It is not a natural country. The ethnic and territorial disputes were controlled by a strong dictator. It is unlikely that it will be cohesive without a very strong leader in the future, who is accepted by all factions.
"But we believe very strongly in what we read in Romans 8:28: 'that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.' So we trust that God works for good, even in things that are evil and difficult. We see God working very powerfully in Iraq right now."
It's that belief that has prompted Compassion Radio to seed money from its own donor base into the local churches.
"I believe Jesus is the only answer to all of the world's trouble spots, and nowhere is that more true than in Iraq.
"Spiritually in Iraq, there are many opportunities for goodness to take root and grow. As American Christians, we must pray for that country and for the spiritual renaissance that could take place."
In suggesting the potential of Iraq, Nelson pointed to the ongoing revival in China.
"Do you know how the gospel first got to China? It came from Iraq," Nelson said. "Historians say that in the eighth century missionaries from Iraq took the gospel to China. This sort of thing could happen again and Iraq could once more become a center for the expansion of the gospel."
In addition to helping the churches, Nelson said his ministry's listeners are able to learn inside information from the voices of those living the reality of war.
"Everybody's talking about what's going on in Iraq," he said. "But, it's very seldom that you hear ordinary Iraqis expressing their own opinions about what's happening in their country. It was very enlightening to be there and talk with them. I am delighted that we are now able to share those interviews on the air."
To get more information on Compassion Radio, visit compassionradio.com.