Hallowed Ground in Unexpected Places: Dateline Iraq

The Presbyterian Church in Basrah. The guest suite’s four windows are visible through the palm tree fronds.  


The Presbyterian Church in Basrah. The guest suite’s four windows are visible through the palm tree fronds.
 

by Marilyn Borst

By God’s grace, I am about to return to Iraq for the 10th time since 1998. In preparation, I have been rereading my journals and share this memory from 2002 when I was making a third visit to the Presbyterian Church in Basrah. I had just left the “safety” and camaraderie of the group with whom I had been in Baghdad and had ventured south on my own – a bit nervously, I can now admit. This required a flight through a “no fly zone” where my own country’s military had permission to shoot down unauthorized planes – a fact that I was oblivious of until I had settled into my seat and was reminded of it by the man sitting next to me! [Cue: fervent prayer….]

...On previous visits, while a part of larger delegations, I had always stayed in a hotel in town, but I was now solo, and everyone was eager for me to accept the hospitality of the church’s guest room. Not many visitors had been hosted, of late, in the shabby-but-adequate guest quarters which the church kept in its run-down education wing.

“Family” at the Presbyterian Church in Basrah Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they always have to take you in. Robert Frost

“Family” at the Presbyterian Church in Basrah
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they always have to take you in.
Robert Frost

After showing me all the amenities of my second story suite, the church’s caretaker, Adham, started down the stairs, assuring me that he would lock the steel security gate at the bottom – no one could disturb me – and reminding me that he and his wife, Lika, were right below me in their apartment, should I need anything. A few steps down, he remembered something, and turned around: Would I like coffee in the morning? My face lit up like a sunrise! 

The next morning, after Adham had determined (probably by the silencing of the whining hot-water pipe – which produced NO hot water, by the way) that I was showered and suitably attired, a gentle little knock at the door indicated the arrival of my much-anticipated coffee. I opened the door to find not only Adham but his wife, Lika, along with their 11-year-old daughter, Miriam, who shyly held up to me a handful of wilting wild flowers. All three ceremoniously entered the sanctuary of the honored guest (me), accompanying the small tray bearing a delicate little tea cup which contained my meager morning jolt: a tepid brew of Nescafe, saturated with an alarming amount of sugar. Given the grace with which it had been proffered me, and under such challenging circumstances, I found it to be nothing-less-than the nectar-of-the-gods. My three remaining mornings there all began with that tender “sacrament of the present moment” …that interface of love and grace and vulnerability that in the common acts of everyday life afford us a glimpse of Christ’s servanthood and sacrifice. And when that happens, we can find ourselves standing on hallowed ground in the most unexpected places.

Marilyn Borst
Associate Director for Partnership Development

The Outreach Foundation