Iraq #3: Our Partner Churches
by Chris Weichman
When we talk about institutions, the church or places like the United States or the Middle East often we paint pictures with broad strokes; as if every church or every area in a country is the same. One of the realizations of this trip is that the church in the Middle East is as diverse as one could imagine. The great blessing of our time together is hearing from the leaders in our partner churches.
We spent the majority of Saturday hearing reports about what our partners are doing in ministry in the Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and the different cities in Iraq. Now that might not sound like a great way to spend a Saturday, but it was amazing to hear how God is at work in such diverse place and in such diverse ways.
The churches of our host nation, Iraq have struggled greatly since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Many members have emigrated to Europe, Canada, or the United States. Despite the loss of members seeking opportunity in the west, the church continues to do amazing ministry. All three churches have a “KG” or kindergarten and Christian radio broadcast. Though unable to teach Christian faith outright in the KG (95% of the students are Muslim), Pastor Haitham of the Kirkuk church says, “we teach them to know God’s love by touching them with mercy.”
Adon from Syria related to us about how the war in Syria has affected the churches. Some have been destroyed and rebuilt, others have been damaged, and still others there is no idea what the state of the church is because they are in “anti-regime” territory. I ask you to remember the churches in the north along the border with Turkey (in Qamishli, Hasakeh and Malkieh) during the latest hostilities from Turkey.
Rev. Rola Sleiman serves the Presbyterian church in Tripoli, Lebanon. She is the first Presbyterian woman ordained in the Middle East. Lebanon is a country of 4 million people and is struggling to cope with 1.5 million Syria refugees.
The church in Egypt is in “a golden age” according to Tharwat Wahba, who teaches at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. Churches are being planted. Ministries are touching the lives of the average Egyptian. Pastors are thinking “outside the walls” of the church.
We only understand the picture of the Middle East by looking at the smaller strokes of the brush. In the smaller stokes, we see the lives of individuals faithfully working and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Outreach Foundation has the privilege of encouraging and participating in the diverse ministries of our partner churches.