Day Two: findaworld Oct 2015 Iraq Trip
I wake from my first night in Pastor H’s office—yep, after months of praying and prepping, I’m here. Hamdallah (Thank God)
Simple Breakfast of some bread and cheese that Adnan got for me last night. The bread is called “Samoan”—a flat little loaf, thicker and chewier than pita, amazing with orange marmalade; this is why I didn’t eat bread for the 5 months—I now vow to live carb-free whenever I’m outside Iraq, so I can do a full-on-Iraqi-bread-binge whenever I’m here
Shower time—I do have my own bathroom and shower, which is more than what the other 16 families living in the church’s converted classrooms can say. Still, it’s an adjustment. My bathroom is basically a tile utility room with toilet, sink, metal rack of cleaning supplies, mop bucket in the corner, and a hose with a shower-head attached. No tub or shower stall, just floor and a drain. Okay…I LOVE my long luxurious showers, but this will be a quick, strictly functional thing. At least the water’s warm enough for a sponge bath—still, this is really weird. But hey, it’s still four stars compared to most. I’ll live.
Another helping of Iraqi bread and marmalade. The “Matriarch” of the family next door has brought me tea.
My translator Sandy picks me up and we leave through a small gate in the walls protecting the church campus. We are greeted by the Iraqi Police who are guarding. Sandy tells me that they are Christian, and once again reminds me that I am not to go outside alone.
Our first visit of the day is to the Protestant Preschool which was started by the Church back in 2006.
This is my third time to the school, and I never get tired of the story: During Saddam’s reign, the Christians had PROTECTION from the government—they could live their lives and practice their faith; but they had no FREEDOM: no public ministry, worship only behind closed doors. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, all that slammed into reverse: suddenly, the Church had no protection from the culture, but complete FREEDOM to do ministry…as much as they dared.
So…leaders from the Church in Iraq (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant)gathered to figure out what to do–they could continue to keep their heads down, but perhaps, was God inviting them to take a risk and start doing public ministry? They trusted that God’s answer was YES, and they started to find ways to minister to their communities. One such way was starting SCHOOLS—a huge value in Middle East culture.
The Protestant Preschool began in 2004 with 28 students and in ten years grew to 400 (before the advance of I.S.I.S./Da3sh). Enrollment is approximately 98% Muslim. While the school doesn’t explicitly teach Church doctrine, they actively promote the values and teachings of Jesus—or Isa, who is respected as a prophet in Islam. This is just one of the ways that Christians are making the reputation of Jesus something beautiful in this culture.
Needless to say, I’m excited whenever I have a chance to visit the Preschool. Today’s a busy one, though—second day of registration, so the office and halls are jammed with kids and anxious parents. I visit a couple of classrooms with Rocko, then it’s off to the Principal’s office for coffee.
While in the office, I chat with some of the families waiting to register their children. Most of them are refugees from Mosul. So are several of the school staff members—faces I recognize from the church campus. I am able to hear a number of their stories: some with jobs, most without; some able to evacuate early with maybe their car and a few possessions, most with nothing; all have been helped by the church in various ways, given everything from rent money to school clothes and groceries.
Each person in the office I speak with says the same thing: “Hamdallah.” Thank God. Thank God we are alive. Thank God my children were not raped. Thank God we have a place to live and are comfortable. Hamdallah.
Still, the other thing that each family shares in common is that no one has any sense of the future.
They ask my advice,
“Are there jobs in America? Is it better? Should I emigrate or stay?
Do you think we will ever be able to return to our villages?
I answer “Ma Ba3raf” –I don’t know
Visit to Christian high school next. First thing out of their mouths, they want help—caravans (prefabricated trailers) for classrooms, laboratory equipment. I can tell they’re not greedy, just desperate. Just trying to keep the doors open. Help isn’t going to come from the government. Sandy tells me that this is actually one of the better schools—many have it much worse. .
Teacher says the students are like gold; lack of opportunities and war is like sand—covers up the gold.
There is a huge need and desire to teach math/science/engineering, but materials are scarce. I wonder if it be possible to get my science/math/teacher friends interested in help? But how to even start coordinating something like that? Now I’m overwhelmed, too.
Lunch with one of the families living in the church: huge hospitality—they like how I eat with my hands—like one of them. They joke with me like family.
The Mother starts to talk with great emotion about the role that God has played/continues to play in their lives:
“Hamdallah. Our faith is simple; God is everything. If we don’t thank God, rely on God, what life is that?”
After lunch I take a Nap. I NEED a nap.
Afternoon, I meet with Pastor H and Adnan: The church Hall is jam packed with school bags—everything from note books to toothpaste, soap, shoes, rain gear, a few chocolates, plus a children’s Bible.
My evening is spent over at Assyrian Orthodox Church. Their campus has been converted into refugee housing as well.
I get to meet some of the families.
There’s a family whose children go to a school for Christians that is supported by Muslims. Sandy nods his head—there is more Christian-Muslim partnership and support here than people would expect.
I meet another family who invites me into their home/classroom for tea. They are from a place on the outskirts of Mosul called Karakush—like many of the displaced families here. What makes Karakush unique is that its population was 100% Christian before Da3sh/I.S.I.S. came. Now, all of the homes and businesses are the property of the Islamic State.
The Father says “Hamdallah—I want to go back home, but what can you do?”
I ask the family “What are you learning?”They answer enthusiastically:
“To be patient”
“To Love God”
“Nobody caring for us but God”
“The BELLS” (“The Bells?” I ask)
“The Church Bells. Both the Christians and Muslims are learning to appreciate that sound once again. It’s the sound that signals the time to pray. It makes people feel good—the sound of people going to prayer.”
Sometime in the middle of this conversation one of the Daughter comes into the room with a huge smile. She’s holding a tray of pastries—a savory round bread with sesame seeds.
What is it called?
Karakush—the name and specialty of their home.
As I take one I’m reminded of how huge these little things are: something little–a smell, taste, texture—that is woven into your experience of Home—it’s huge.
It’s not enough, though, at least not all that I hope for them
—but it’s something.
So I’m sitting with these people, who are sharing with me a taste of their home; the home they lost; the home they still long for.
As I prepare to leave, the daughter hands me something—a Karakush pastry. I say: “I will enjoy this and remember it until I can eat one in Karakush when I am visiting you.”
The Mother says “Enshallah” (May God will it)
Back at the Presbyterian church campus
—some of the families are out in the courtyard. Sandy and I play Frisbee with the teens; then soccer; then this tag game with numbers that I remember playing 40 years ago—in America.
I’m making sure the small kids are all getting kazoos, it’s making lots of noise, and I’m wondering if the people outside think the Christians have very strange prayers.
It’s late, but folks are still sitting outside: adults/teens/children, big family. I bring out my guitar, share some of my songs; then they share some of their songs; people start telling jokes trying to cross the cultural differences; the older ones start telling riddles.
Time to go inside, get to bed.
I find something to wrap my Karakush in, put it in the fridge.
I can’t bring myself to eat it.