Iraq Appeal Update Kirkuk Church Update - July 2017

The Al-Saka sisters of Mosul. Hannah is on the far left.

"...we rejoice in our suffering, because suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope; and hope does not disappoint us..."
- Romans 5:3-5

I first met them in May of 2015. They had been living at the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk for almost a year by then. Philip, the youngest member of this family who had fled the Christian village of Qaraqosh, had an impish smile and bright gray-green eyes. He was, in Southern parlance, “cute as a button.” 

His father had been a guard at one of the churches when they fled the onslaught of ISIS with only the clothes on their back. Along with his four siblings and parents, “home” was now a small Sunday School classroom at the Kirkuk Church – and they were so very grateful to Rev. Haitham Jazrawi and the congregation for it. Recently, I asked Rev. Haitham for an update on this family and the general state of those for whom the congregation was caring for at the church. This is what he shared:

Philip is now entering the 4th grade! He graduated third grade as the #1 student in his class. Similarly, his sister, Vatican, is now entering 7th grade, which is the start of high school in Iraq (as opposed to 9th grade in the U.S.). She also finished 6th grade as the #1 student for her class! 
We are tremendously proud of these two kids, pictured here today, and how much they have overcome. It speaks volumes to the inner strength of children, which we all attribute to Christ's love manifesting itself in these small ones. In a sense, kids have been hurt the most throughout this crisis: losing their homes, their toys, their friends, their family members…coping with significant losses of that magnitude is too much to handle for most adults, so imagine how difficult it must have been for small children. And yet, through Christ's ever-renewing Grace, these kids have been able to come a long way in the three years we've had them among us. We remain eternally grateful to our Lord for ministering to us through them. It's been a privilege for us to witness how far this family has come, both in terms of their faith and resilience. The three older brothers are now working nearly full-time and are able to provide for themselves as well as help their mother and father and two younger siblings that remain with us. And I am in awe that, despite all that has happened to them as a family, they always, without fail, remember the blessings that God has provided for them during these past three years. I have yet to hear any of them complain about what has befallen them. Every word they speak is one of thanks and gratitude. I look into their eyes and see the face of Christ manifested before me.

Three years on, the church still cares for 11 displaced families, a total of 40 persons. Eight of those families live in the church compound and three are in homes rented by the church nearby. It costs the congregation about $7,000 a month to provide for these families. Some of the adults have found work to help with expenses and the kindergarten, which is run by the church, has hired three of the displaced women – two teachers and a janitor. Although many of the families have now learned that their homes in Mosul or in Christian villages nearby are now “liberated,” Rev. Haitham says that they are fearful to return because there are no police or army personnel close by to protect them, and most of the buildings are in ruins and would require major repairs for which these families have no resources. For the near future, these families remain an engrafted part of this embracing congregation…

Only two hours by car from Kirkuk is Mosul. It is the site of one of the Presbyterian churches in Iraq. Today, much of Mosul lies in ruin. But somewhere in West Mosul is that church. I first visited it in 1998 and then made four subsequent visits. The last one was on a sweltering August day in 2003, just four months after the end of the month-long Iraq War – in the aftermath of which a violent insurgency would take root in Mosul and I would not get back there again. Located deep within the Old City, you can only reach it on foot. And you might walk right past it because its ornately carved door frame (c. 1840) is embedded in a long wall. Some young boys, unaccustomed to seeing a foreigner in this part of town, greeted me with delight outside the church. Once inside, a small courtyard gave access to a tiny sanctuary, some Sunday School rooms, a library/office and a small kitchen. 

In the violent aftermath of the 2003 war, most of the small congregation left. In 2006 one of its last elders, Munther Al-Saka, was kidnapped and murdered. In 2009, the remaining elder, Shamil Sadek, was shot in the chest in an attempted kidnapping. He survived but was threatened and forced to leave the country. 

The remaining members – Elder Munther’s four sisters – left for Kurdish-controlled Erbil shortly before ISIS invaded Mosul. One of those sisters, Hannah, is the de facto head of the church now and, as such, gets regular updates from Iraq’s Ministry of Religion. Rev. Haitham will go to Mosul with Hannah to check on the church when the area is safe. He doubts that much remains, but the Al-Saka sisters have not let go of their vision to see the church revived. Hopeful ones, these Christians of Iraq…

With gratitude for your accompaniment on this journey,

Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development

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