Iraq Appeal - November 2017 Update
Be joyful in hope; patient in suffering; faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12
“Joyful, patient, faithful…” is a pretty apt summary of the Presbyterian Church in Iraq which I encountered, yet again, on my trip to this beleaguered country just a few weeks ago. Iraq makes the “Top Ten List” of the most difficult places to be a Christian; 75% of all Christians have left since 2003 with only about 250,000 remaining, mostly in the Catholic and Orthodox communities. And yet this Presbyterian presence, with its small “footprint” (less than 200 families in three cities), is making a big impact. Ben McCaleb, First Presbyterian, San Antonio, and Steve Burgess, West Hills (Presbyterian), Omaha, were making a return trip with me as we spent time in both Basrah and Baghdad. We were guided by the Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh, mission consultant to The Outreach Foundation and Syrian Presbyterian pastor. Following the Kurdish referendum vote, Rev. Haitham Jazrawi of Kirkuk advised us not to come north but instead came down to Baghdad to meet with us.
All three congregations (Basrah, Baghdad, Kirkuk) have some things in common: they all run kindergarten/nursery schools which are so well-respected by the non-Christian families who attend them that they have been urged to open elementary schools as well; all three either run or are setting up Christian radio stations; for the first time in a long while, all three congregations have an ordained pastor to serve them; and all three congregations open their doors to those who have never heard the Good News, and the Holy Spirit is bringing hungry souls to receive the Bread of Life. I hope that the photos included here afford you a glimpse into the work and witness of these churches which your faithful gifts to the Iraq Appeal have encouraged!
The Christian community in Iraq has become close and sets an admirable standard for ecumenical fellowship. While we were there, our Presbyterian friends set up meetings for us with the Armenian Orthodox bishop in Baghdad and with an Armenian Orthodox monk and a Chaldean Catholic monsignor in Basrah. The affection and respect shared across these confessional lines was obvious. During worship in Basrah, the local Syrian Orthodox priest sang a solo while accompanied by the oud (Middle Eastern “lute”) played by the Presbyterian pastor! Our conversation with Father Petros Azaryan, the Armenian monk who shepherds the 100 Armenian families now left in Basrah, was a reminder of the long history of Christianity in the Middle East. His congregation dates back to 1756 – twenty years before the United States was founded. But Father Petros’ sobering challenge is one and the same for all the churches there: “We are trying hard to keep our people in Iraq.”
Middle Easterners have “hospitality” in their DNA and food is one of the ways in which this is extended – with frequency and in abundance! In an attempt to offset the ample meals we had been receiving from the church in Baghdad, I had taken to walking laps in the church courtyard/parking lot, just down the stairs from the guest apartments where we were staying. Each lap took me past the "guardhouse" outside the gates where around the clock in eight-hour shifts, Iraqi soldiers protect this particular piece of Holy Ground, and I offered prayers of thanks for them. But I soon began to notice how many crosses I passed as I made those tedious loops – they were everywhere: atop the steeple, on the walls, over the windows, on railings and doors. I began to count them: 106 of them. The cross – for the Church in Iraq – is its sure foundation; its protection; its comfort; its wellspring for the joy, the patience, the faithfulness which it models to the world!
Associate Director for Partnership Development
Gifts marked for the Iraq Appeal, which supports the mission and ministry of the three Presbyterian churches in Iraq along with relief efforts for Iraqis displaced by war, may be sent to our office at the address below or you may make a gift by clicking HERE.