Day Thirteen, Findaworld 2015 Iraq Trip
It’s Saturday. After a week in Erbil and Duhok, it’s nice to be back at the Kirkuk church, to wake up again in “my room”—the bed placed in Pastor H’s office for me. I’ve become fully used to the hose shower now. I’ve discovered that I can take a luxurious shower AND clean and hose down the bathroom at the same time—interesting how something foreign becomes completely normal.
It’s still pretty early when I meet up with about fifteen of the young adults and teens in the courtyard. They’re all wearing the same white polo with red trim. We pile into cars and head across town to one of the other Kirkuk churches.
This happens every month: a day-long gathering for Christian youth in Kirkuk. There’s worship, seminars, food, play, fellowship.
This event has been really important, especially with all that has happened in this past year. I am told that the majority of youth here have been displaced from their homes.
As people are arriving, I meet this guy named Loai (pronounced Lou—eye, like the song “Louie Louie”) He teaches computers at a local technical school. His English is great and he offers to be my translator for the day.
Loai and I talk about the current struggles: “I have 2 scales: blessings and deprivations,” he says. “Right now, the deprivations area outweighs the blessings for me. People say Hamdallah, but maybe, sometimes, they are pretending.”
“I wonder if there can be a ‘both and’” I offer. “Maybe it’s possible to be both grateful that you made it out alive and at the same time struggle with what you’ve suffered and lost. I think maybe God is ok with that.”
Loai nods. “ I must be honest with God. I have lost all of my freedom. It would take a miracle to get me up those steps.”
The program is starting and Loai asks for my help to get him into the church building. We must go to the far end of the building where there is a wheelchair ramp. Even with the ramp he needs my assistance. It is steep and requires a running start and my strong push to get him up. Getting him through the church door requires four guys.
The sanctuary is very formal, but the worship is pretty modern with upbeat music. Everyone is participating, singing with enthusiasm and heart.
One of the priests gets up to speak. He’s an older guy, but he clearly has a rapport with the young people. They’re listening, nodding, laughing. I can’t follow everything he says, but I can pick up on certain words: Da3sh (I.S.I.S.); Mashakal (Problems); Bidun Akel (Without Food).
Afterwords, Loai gives me a summary: The priest is talking about people wanting to emigrate to other countries. He’s telling them that it’s not always the perfect outcome we think. He’s encouraging them to keep persevering and remain in Iraq.
There’s a break, and everyone swarms into the courtyard—for tea. Teatime at a youth event. This is Iraq.
The rest of the day—seminars, skits, drama, music—I spend with the youth from the Kirkuk Church. I’m really enjoying the relationship that is building.
Just outside the church walls are armed guards having tea. —which is just normal here, but it underscores the reality that Christians and other religious minorities live with.
The event concludes with a special service out in the courtyard.
Tonight, we’re back at the Kirkuk Presbyterian Church. Only a few nights of courtyard fellowship left. I’m gonna take full advantage of it.