As we sat around in a circle on the floor of the ancient Chaldean church sanctuary, I was handed a Bible and asked to read from Amos 5, about justice flowing down like mighty streams, etc. My teammate, Sandra, was asked read from the New Testament. I appreciated the non-hierarchical way we all—men and women—sat on the same level, as equals. Though from different Christian traditions, we sensed God’s love flowing among us.
Earlier, this second day back in Suleimani, Iraq, I had been briefed by another teammate about our work, the situation in Iraq, and changes in the team and apartment. Though feeling a bit overwhelmed—adjusting to being in a different world—I decided to go along with Sandra to the Friday open services at this old church compound, now revitalized as a monastery inhabited by men and women from different religious orders. This small group has hope that this place will become a place where Muslims and Christians from all over Iraq come together to dialogue, learn from each other and build peaceful relationships. (I hope to write more about it later after more contact.)
In my mind, was my visit with my Muslim friend and her family on my stopover in Istanbul. They had known Art and me while graduate students at Ohio University years ago and had hosted me when I previous traveled through that city. During one of our good talks, my friend shared sensitively and caringly out of her own faith, about God’s loving care for me in my time of healing and adjustment since Art’s death.
I am grateful to learn from and receive the love and care from sisters and brothers without needing to judge it with the labels of Christian or Muslim, Kurdish, Iraqi, American, or any other category we often use to separate ourselves from or see us as better than others. I’m also encouraged by others who also feel a calling to break down walls of fear or hostility between different peoples and to serve those suffering from violence and oppression.
So though I re-enter an area of the country plagued by fear and threat of violence, I feel blessed.