“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.