Iraq Appeal - January 2019 Update
In October my colleague Rev. Nuhad Tomeh and I brought a small team to Iraq to meet the three Presbyterian congregations there – Basrah, Baghdad and Kirkuk. Rev. Ginny Teitt, Ms. Gretchen Tilly, Mr. Sichan Siv (a former ambassador to the UN) and Rev. Tony Lorenz were an encouraging presence to the Faithful Church there and we were all, in turn, moved and inspired by those who can say with confidence that they, “rejoice in their suffering, because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Rev. Teitt shares here her reflection on our time in Basrah.
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:1
The days were short and the nights were long as we anticipated the celebration of the birth of Christ, the light of the world. And as I reflected on the familiar words from Isaiah 9:1, my mind and heart were filled by my recent experience of traveling to visit partner churches in Iraq, giving the season even deeper meaning…
After standing in what felt like the longest airport exit line ever to get cleared to leave Beirut, where we had just spent a couple of days in orientation, our Outreach team finally boarded a Middle East Airline flight to spend time with our Christian partners in Iraq. Upon arrival at the Basrah airport, we needed to secure our visas to enter the country, and it looked like we could be in for another challenging process.
After scanning our entry forms, a (Muslim) immigration officer discovered that we were coming to visit the local Presbyterian Church. As I wondered if it had been wise to declare this fact our agent, Mohammed, exclaimed with joy that after waiting two years, his young son now attended the Presbyterian KG (kindergarten)! Later when Marilyn inquired why he chose that school his reply was, "it is the best of the best." Not only did we receive the necessary documents, we were even offered delicious chocolates while we waited.
The barren, rocky, lifeless landscape of rocks and war rubble and toxic water that we passed over on our descent into the airport stood in stark contrast to the vibrant, warm welcome from the representatives of the church who received us at the terminal. Watching Marilyn and Nuhad embrace precious friends, some they have known for two decades, warmed our hearts, brought broad smiles, and even a few tears of joy, foreshadowing the warm reception our team would experience in every encounter.
Pastor Amgad, his sweet wife, Mary, and their children, commissioned as missionaries from Egypt when the church in Basrah could not find a pastor, quickly became treasured friends to all the team. We loaded many bags and people into the big white van that was secured by Outreach partners and used as school transportation for children and headed to the Basr Alsultan Hotel to settle into our accommodations, grateful for in-room air conditioners in the 111-degree heat.
It was dark by the time we gathered at the church, but the first thing we noticed was the cross that stood higher and brighter than anything we had seen in the dimly lit city with a history of so much suffering and so many challenges for so many people. There we met elder Dr. Zuhair Fathallah who shared about the church and its 13-15 families, describing the activities of this small but committed congregation. The mission to help the people in need whose livelihoods were destroyed when Saddam Hussein’s forces drained the swamps near Basrah touched us deeply. Recently when the water became tainted with salt and bacteria, the church distributed drinking water for locals, offering a real-life picture of sharing Living Water. We were introduced to a small group committed to represent the loving light of Christ to their city and beyond.
The following morning, our tour of the amazing, brightly-colored church schoolrooms which serve as classrooms for the kindergarten revealed what Mohammed called "the best of the best." A visit to the nearby Syrian Orthodox Church of Basrah included conversations over coffee and sweet treats, and while gathered in their more ornate sanctuary we were touched by the priest singing the Lord's Prayer in Syriac. The day concluded with worship, where our own Tony Lorenz preached with Nuhad translating. Another sumptuous meal, stories shared, and an exchange of gifts concluded the day.
Those of us visiting Iraq for the first time, just as our team leaders, will always have the precious people of the Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church of Basrah in our hearts! And this past Advent season as I lit candles, I remembered lights burning in darkness for all to see in Iraq.
Rev. Virginia “Ginny” Teitt
Organizing Pastor, Concord Presbyterian Church
Director, New Wilmington Mission Conference
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 online HERE.
Read more about the Iraq Appeal HERE.