IBrahim Baghirov died in infancy. His mother, Mary, had read in the gospels about Jesus and Lazarus, so she prayed that God would raise her child from the dead. He did, she said. Doctors in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, confirmed the miracle for her, which also confirmed her budding faith as a Christian of Muslim background.
Two decades later, Baghirov is an emerging preacher in the church that meets in the family home.
But in September 2020, as Azerbaijan launched what would become a 44-day war against neighboring Armenia, Mary’s faith wavered. Having once trusted God where medicine failed, she hastily made an appointment with her son for unnecessary surgery in hopes of saving him from conscription. He gently reprimanded her.
“I will go wherever God takes me,” said Baghirov, now 26. “There are ways to keep me here, but there will be no blessing in that.”
It deployed within weeks to the front lines in the snow-capped peaks of Nagorno-Karabakh, a strip of land the size of Delaware that is ringed by present-day Azerbaijan and has been contested for centuries.
Along the way, Baghirov said he received a word from God: none of his comrades in arms would die and he would be their minister. His country is predominantly Muslim, and several of his comrades shunned him after his pocket New Testament fell out of his backpack. Others asked questions, however, and became friends.
Azerbaijan, which has a reputation as one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world, is tolerant of its long-established Christian minority community. But his longstanding animosities towards Christian Armenia are another story.
The generations-old dispute between the two countries over Nagorno-Karabakh – an Armenian majority…
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