I'm returning to Baghdad. As a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, I believe it is my call, despite the fact that four of my colleagues are still missing there.
Our organization has maintained a presence in Iraq since October 2002. We were there before and during the invasion, and we've been there since, standing with the Iraqi people throughout this time of threat, destruction and occupation.
Our work includes documenting brutality and abuse by the United States in the arrest, interrogation and imprisonment of Iraqi detainees, offering assistance to Iraqi individuals and organizations working nonviolently to deal with the problems in their society and being eyewitnesses to what war and occupation really mean for the Iraqi people.
President Bush, in his Dec. 18 speech, painted a rosy picture of Iraq that we cannot recognize.
When many Iraqis -- who earlier welcomed the change of regime -- now hear Bush say that the U.S. needs to "continue on the offensive," they understand it to mean continuing the house raids, the bombing of civilians, the illegal detentions, torture and abuse.
We don't deny that the Iraqi people suffered greatly under the Saddam Hussein regime. It is clear to us, however, that the longer the U.S. military is present in Iraq, the more dire the problems and daily hardships for ordinary Iraqis will become.
Iraqis have long ago lost their trust in the United States.
The pro-American, rich and corrupt Iraqi bureaucrats the United States helped usher into power do not represent the needs and aspirations of the average Iraqi citizen.
Many Iraqis are angry that the U.S. presence has attracted international terrorist groups to their country, causing more violence and spreading the problem of terrorism rather than containing it. They are also aware that the majority of those involved in armed resistance in Iraq are Iraqi patriots whose primary goal is to rid their country of foreign occupation.
We in Christian Peacemaker Teams are grieving. Jim Loney, Tom Fox, Harmeet Sooden and Norman Kember -- all dedicated peace workers -- have been captured in Iraq.
The risks and dangers of our work have become terrifyingly real to us.
But we see this as a time to draw more deeply into our resources of faith, to support each other in our pain, but not retreat.
I go back to Iraq mainly because God has given me a deep love for the Iraqi people and calls me to stand with them through their continued suffering. I go to walk with them as, together, we discover the power of love and nonviolent resistance to violent oppression.
We are trying to follow the way of nonviolent suffering love, the way of Jesus, acclaimed during this season as the Prince of Peace. His way calls us to be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters around the world, including our enemies, as we expose and confront evil nonviolently.
Peggy Gish is the author of "Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace" (Herald Press, 2004). She has worked in Iraq since October 2002 and resides in Athens, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.