Day Fourteen, Findaworld Fall 2015 trip
Sunday, second to last day in Iraq. I have breakfast with the Moner family—sitting on the beds, participating in worship from the television. This family has a deep faith. I’m going to miss them.
It’s a free morning, so I take an extra long shower/laundry—washing a few clothes while I wash myself. I know Mrs. Moner will do my wash for me, I know she will chastise me, but I do it anyway. I know the culture, but I still bring my own baggage—independence, avoidance of asking for what I need. I like the idea of community, but have lived so much of my life like an island.
Lunch with Fais and his kids. We’re joined by friend, a young guy who was studying computers at the university in Mosul when it was taken over my I.S.I.S. Now, he’s trying to finish his education in Kirkuk.
Lunch is fun and relaxed—eating, talking, playing.
I enjoy Fais so much. I enjoy hearing about his life—he’s owned three different restaurants. The one he owned when Da3sh/I.S.I.S. took over is apparently still operating—as someone else’s property.
After lunch I check my clothes that are hanging out to dry. Sure enough, Mrs. Moner gives me a scolding. It’s her way of expressing care and friendship. At least she lets me take a picture of her giving me the stink-eye.
Sunday evening is worship at the Kirkuk Church. I must mention that these pictures are just of the people that have come early—by the time worship begins, the sanctuary is three-fourths full. While all of the families living on the church campus belong to a different denomination, many of the are here in worship.
The worship is a flow of modern Arabic music and spoken prayer led by two men up front. Pastor H will preach near the end of the service. Before Pastor H begins his sermon, he invites me up to share a message with the congregation while he translates.
This is the message I shared:
I bring greetings from my wife Elmarie. You all are very close to both her heart and my heart.
I have just spent two weeks here in Kirkuk Erbil and Duhok. My purpose has been to spend time living alongside of the churches here, and also the families who had to leave their homes after being forced out by Da3sh. I write stories about the people I meet, then I put these stories on my computer website. I use this website to help Americans understand how the Spirit of Jesus is working in the Middle East. These stories are impacting many people and churches. They are seeing the beautiful things that I experience here. They are seeing the Christians and Muslims here in a way that the American media doesn’t show them. Most of all they are seeing how you—the Church—are serving Jesus here, and that is encouraging them to pray for and support your faithful ministry.
Four years ago, I didn’t have a big interest in coming to the Middle East. I had other plans for my life. What changed?
Four years ago, Elmarie met this church for the first time. She got to know Pastor Haitham and Mayada. She became excited by the great ministry that Jesus is doing through this church. She fell in love with all of you.
Then Elmarie came home to America.
And she told me many stories about you.
She told me about the ministry to women in prison
She told me about the school you started.
She told me about the many people in need that you help.
She told me about the risks that you take in order to represent Jesus in your community.
She told me about the people who come to this church and discover the love of Jesus Christ.
Elmarie told me all of these stories
And I knew I had to meet you, also. I knew I had to meet you, because in you I saw the beautiful kind of Church that Jesus talks about in the Bible and I was hungry to be part of a church like that. You helped me see the beauty of Jesus and the beauty of His Church.
It was your example that Jesus used to call Elmarie and I to ministry in the Middle East. It is a challenging ministry, but we are both so very happy and content. And we thank God for you.
I know this is such a difficult time for all of you. Being a Christian and raising a family here brings a lot of pressure and difficulty and pain. I know you have many questions about whether there is a good future for you and you families here. There are two things I want to say about that.
One: I want you to know that Jesus is using you in many beautiful ways. Through your church’s life and example, churches throughout the world are learning what it means to love, follow and serve Jesus Christ in difficult times. Elmarie and I tell your story every day to the churches we visit and work with and reach through my website. Your church is a great teacher to hundreds of churches in America, and they are learning to look more like Jesus Christ by your example.
Two: I want you to know that I Elmarie, and those hundreds of churches are WITH YOU. We care about you. We care about your struggles. We are with you in our hearts and in our prayers.
Being WITH the people you care about is a value that I am learning from life in Iraq. It has been my joy to be WITH you for these two weeks. I pray that I have been able to love you and encourage you and strengthen you.
But most of all I hope that through my being with you, Jesus has been able to remind you that HE is with you. The Bible tells us that when the Church is serving Christ and suffering for Christ, that the very Spirit of Jesus Christ is WITH them. Just as a close friend is WITH you Jesus is WITH you now.
That is sometimes hard to remember when we are experiencing troubles, and I pray that my being with you can be a reminder.
Elmarie, I, and your Church partners in America are WITH you. We love you. And we do not forget you in this difficult time.
The love of Jesus for you and the presence of Jesus WITH you is even greater.
Sunday dinner is with one of the families from the village of Bartola, outside of Mosul. As the sleeping area is transformed into dining space, the son brings in a huge metal pot, flips it upside down onto a platter, then slowly lifts the pot as the thick stew of fresh vegetables retains its shape on the platter: my second meal of Iraqi Dorma (stuffed squash and peppers) in a week. Bartola Dorma has its own unique distinctions from Yizidi Dorma, but both are darn tasty.
A year and a half ago, this family’s life was quite different: they were affluent, had a lavish home with plasma screens in every room—lost it all to Da3sh/I.S.I.S.
After dinner, over tea, they give me gifts from their church in Bartola. Though they struggle, they hold to their faith.
As we continue to talk, they begin to ask me about America. They ask me if life would be better for them in the U.S. Eventually they ask me point blank “Should we stay or go?”
I start to share the pros and cons, but it’s pretty clear they’ve made up their minds. Their hope is to emigrate—to America. It sounds like they are among the rare ones who have the connections to make it happen.
“This is not our country,” the father says. “Maybe if they returned our homes. But there is not future, no jobs, for our children.”
“This is not our country. It belongs to the Arabs, not to us.”
I understand where they are coming from, but it makes me sad.
After dinner, I join the families in the courtyard. Talk and play. I take it all in, enjoy it. It will be my last evening with these folks, at least for a while.