Iraq #1: Friends in the Middle East

by Jack Baca

A bit less than four years ago I came on my first Outreach Foundation trip into the Middle East. This makes trip number five. I could hardly be more excited. Why?

There are lots of things to love about this region of the world. The history here is, of course, amazing. For folks of faith like me that goes without saying. How could you not be eager to get back to the land of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Paul? But there’s also so much great art, and archaeology, and the story of the beginning of human civilization. The food is great, too, and there are hauntingly beautiful vistas often magnified by ethereal sunsets.

But the most beautiful thing about this part of the world are the people. I know what you think. You think, “But all they do is fight with each other.” There is that. But there is also a very long history of people getting along with each other. While some fight, most don’t. And what is truly inspiring is to meet and know those who fight the harder battles of loving each other, even loving their enemies.

So I’m excited about continuing some now very deep friendships with people of God’s church who will welcome our whole team and me with nothing but love. In these first couple of days alone we’ve visited the refugee school in Kab Elias where Christians are teaching mostly Muslim refugee children. And we’ve had lunch (again) at the home of Izidihar and Riad, and heard about their ministry of teaching refugee women (again, mostly Muslim) basic skills like sewing, so they can provide for their families, and perhaps heal a little from the horrible emotional and spiritual destruction that war and displacement brings. We’ve checked in with our friends at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, noting their faithfulness in their 150-year history of educating leaders for the churches here, and how they’ve weathered not a few crises.

Now, on our second full day, we make our way from Lebanon into Iraq. Though I’ve been all over Syria, this will be my first time in Iraq. It’s hard to pull away from my friends in Beirut, but I know I’ll meet some new friends in Erbil, Kirkuk, and Mosul. I’ve heard the stories of their tribulations, and I’ve met a couple of them on their stateside visits. But there is nothing like visiting people in their homeland. At the end of this trip I full well expect to have an even longer list of people whom I’ll call “friend,” in the deepest, most joyful, most beautiful sense of that word. And I’ll be even more grateful for the One whom I follow, who once called you and me his friends. You cannot be his friend, I’ve learned, without yourself becoming a person who reaches out and makes friends with others. This is my joy, as well as the hope of the world.