'Vicar of Baghdad' returns to speak at Wheaton

Rev. Canon Andrew White, PhD, spoke at Wheaton College last Tuesday while on another tour in the United States.

Rev. Canon Andrew White, PhD, spoke at Wheaton College last Tuesday while on another tour in the United States.

In addition to being the Emeritus Vicar of Baghdad, White is President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME). FRRME works to aid refugees in Northern Iraq and Jordan and reconcile relations across religious and ethnic divides, according to the foundation’s website. White has spoken at Wheaton numerous times, and he was the commencement speaker in 2012.

Entitled “My Journey So Far,” White’s talk mostly consisted of stories about the people he has worked with rather than the work he is doing. Joining him was Sarah Ahmed, DDS who is the Director of Operations in the Middle East for FRRME and a volunteer dentist. Sarah Ahmed, a native Iraqi and Muslim, gave a unique perspective and spoke about the logistics of FRRME and what they do in the Middle East. Michael McKoy, assistant professor of political science and international relations, mediated the talk.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the talk was the dynamic between a Muslim and a Christian collaborating to aid refugees in the Middle East. Despite the apparent religious gap, White and Ahmed acted as if this was a trivial difference.

There was no indication that their differing beliefs affected their work as they presented themselves as a unified team. Freshman Mady Reno commented on this unique relationship. “It wasn’t about the differences between them; it was about the similarities.”

Proudly wearing a blue-and-orange-striped bow tie, White repeatedly professed his love for Wheaton and the “unique education” the college provides. He appeared very comfortable amidst “Wheaties,” as he was not afraid to frequently interrupt McKoy to tell a story or share a testimony.

His disjointed speaking style left some members of the audience perplexed, but he still came across as a “really warm, familial figure at Wheaton,” according to freshman Henry Prinz.

Freshman Zoe Puerner had the unique opportunity of working with White while taking a gap year before coming to Wheaton. While working for him, Puerner spent most of the year in England, but also traveled to Israel and France. She would do everything from making coffee to organizing events to working as a personal assistant, according to Puerner.

Puerner describes White as a “great networker” that works hard to help others. “For him, it comes down to ‘how can my network serve this group of people?’” He works to connect individuals, organizations, and countries to provide relief and reconciliation across what appear to be insurmountable ethnic and religious boundaries.

Puerner also spoke of his incredible work ethic, despite his long battle with MS. “He is one of the hardest working people that I have ever met.”

According to his feature in the Huffington Post, White developed multiple sclerosis when he was 33 years old. Yet, other than periodic stem cell treatments, White does not let the disease deter him from connecting those in need to those who can help.

To learn more about Rev. Canon Andrew White and the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, visit http://www.frrme.org.

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