Iraq Appeal - June 2019 Update
For many years, the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk has ministered to women in the local prison. Led by Mayada (who has written the letter, below), the wife of Pastor Haitham Jazrawi, the church has found favor with prison officials. Mayada and her team bring Light and Hope to women who are usually permanently shunned by their families and society. If they have children, those little ones are incarcerated with their mothers as there are few other options. At a most fundamental level, this is the work Christ enjoined to his followers when he said, “I was in prison, and you visited me….”
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I'm writing to you today to share some updates from our most recent visit to the Kirkuk Women's Jail. On Tuesday, May 28, I visited the jail along with two sisters in ministry, Susan and Balsam. My husband, Pastor Haitham, also joined us, but he stayed outside with the guards.
During this visit, we met 48 women, and 4 children (ranging from 1 to 3 years old). Most of these women were new and we hadn't met them before. And, similar to several previous visits, the majority of these women are accused of terrorism; most of them are widows of ISIS fighters. The majority of these women were Sunni Arabs (ISIS was exclusively Sunni), as well as a few Kurdish and Turkmani women.
One of the young women told us that she wishes to leave jail and return to her normal life as soon as possible. I took this as an opportunity to discuss the need for us to change our old ways and to look to God for strength. I said that as Muslims, they believe God is capable of everything, including reshaping their lives for the good. We stressed that both faith and willingness to grow and improve are required to see positive changes.
We spent some time taking down their prayer requests, as well as giving them little bits of encouragement and explaining the meaning of their names and the beauty each woman has in her name, which they very much enjoyed. We also read to them the encouraging signs we had pasted on their care packages such as "God Loves Me.” Several of them didn't know how to read, so we explained to them what each of the words meant, and they all said they were in desperate need of these encouraging tags.
While we were visiting, the guards brought us hot tea. However, since all the women in prison were Muslim and fasting for Ramadan, we politely declined the tea. In the Middle East, it's considered rude for a non-Muslim to eat or drink in front of a Muslim during Ramadan, lest they be tempted. I could tell that this small action put many of them at ease with us.
As we were chatting, one of the older women (not an ISIS bride) asked if Pastor Haitham was with us. I was surprised that she knew my husband by name, so I asked her how she knew him. She told me that she was a lawyer and she had worked with him as an adjunct professor in the late 80s at the local college where my husband served as Dean of Students before going into ministry. She named several people that I knew as well. After the visit was done, I asked the warden if he could bring her out to meet my husband and he graciously agreed. She was very happy to reminisce with us about the old days. We also asked the warden if he would allow us to take pictures with the children, and he allowed it as well.
After that, they asked if we could provide them with traditional Arabic dresses (known as "Gubah") so they would have something decent to wear while in court in front of a judge. We also bought the women a new television because there are now two large jail cells that house them (whereas previously there was only one cell); this way the women can have access to local channels for fun. We also purchased coloring books and coloring pencils for the children, per their request. We sent all of these things the day after our visit.
After the visit, we chatted with the warden and he informed us that both the women's and the men's jails in Kirkuk were over capacity. They are supposed to house no more than 350 inmates, but they are currently housing 800, more than twice the limit.
As always, I want to thank you for your continued support of this ministry, both through your prayers and financial support. May the Lord our God bless you now and evermore.
Please consider joining Outreach for a trip to Iraq in fall 2019, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. 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.