Until we are healed
by Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
I am about to make my 12th trip to Iraq.
I made my first journey there in 1998. Having done most of my college and graduate studies in ancient art and archaeology, I was “pumped” to lay eyes on the wonders of the ancient Near Eastern cultures I had studied: Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria. As a “practicing” art historian, I had, over and over, shown my college students slides of the Ziggurat of Ur, the blue-tiled Ishtar Gate from Babylon and the giant (composite) bull-headed, winged lions whose fierce faces and menacing postures were intended to intimidate visitors as they entered Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh. I was thrilled to be able to see them “in person” on that sweltering June trip that took me as far south as Basrah and as far north as Mosul.
But what really opened my eyes on that trip were my encounters with an “endangered species” I hardly knew existed there: Christians…especially, fellow-Presbyterians! Drawn by the relationships that began to develop, I would return again and again, and walk with them on their journey as they endured U.N. sanctions under Saddam, the Persian Gulf War of 1990/91, the U.S. invasion of 2003 and then the scourge of ISIS beginning in 2014. The 5 Presbyterian congregations dwindled and two had to close. But the Church which remained has been faithful, brave and intentional about being “salt and light” in a hard place.
Every time I get ready to return, I have reread the journals from my previous trips to Iraq as they remind me of the people and places that may have gotten foggy in my 64-year-old-brain. I am so glad that I was “driven" to recording, each day---often late into the night and after a grueling itinerary of experiences and encounters, bone-jarring rides on awful roads and overwhelmingly generous meals (another kebob, anyone?)—the conversations, the joyful worship, the sometimes-tearful sharing of problems so large neither I nor the churches or organizations which I served could ever hope to address---those names and faces and still small voices which have now been inexorably woven into the fabric of my love for and commitment to that place --- Iraq, broken and beaten, but always resurrecting, again and again and again....
The Assyrian Presbyterian church in Baghdad closed in the aftermath of the 2003 war when insurgents in the part of Baghdad where it is located got the upper hand and it became too dangerous to venture there. In 2001, I was worshipping there with a few other Americans who had come with me. One of the elders, Albert Shawo, seen in the photo with me, gave us a short, prophetic and compelling charge, which I will never forget: "Do not quench your spirit until we are healed...."
I am grateful for the brave souls who have followed me to Iraq to meet our Family-by-faith there, over the years and am in eager anticipation of returning again with Mark, Jack, Tony, Chris, and Mike. Perhaps, these 5 Presbyterian pastors have missed this week’s news about the violent protests that have broken out in Baghdad?! Or, more likely, the Holy Spirit has prompted them to show up and encourage the Church there, regardless of the danger and the challenges, as Outreach Foundation has felt called to do “until Iraq is healed….”