Inside Iraq

Proper 10 (July 13, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Is. 55:10-13; Ps. 65:9-13; Rom. 8:1-11; Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23

This week we visited MCC partners in northern Iraq. We flew to Erbil in the middle of the night, rested a few hours, then traveled by car to Suleimaniyah – a Kurdish city of more than 1 million people — near the Iranian boarder.

Mountainous terrain of northeastern Iraq, looking toward its border with Iran

MCC partner REACH is headquartered in Suleimaniyah, but its work is concentrated on the green line – the unofficial border between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. Using a participatory process, REACH helps local communities define issues of common concern and how to address them. In many cases, clean water is a high priority. MCC is supporting REACH in bringing clean water to more than a dozen villages. REACH also does health projects, conducts peacebuilding workshops and distributes MCC material resources.

Next we traveled to Ainkawa in north-central Iraq, where MCC supplies an English teacher to the St. Peter’s Seminary and Babel College of Philosophy and Theology. The seminary trains priests who serve Chaldean Catholic parishes throughout Iraq. In 2006, the seminary and Babel College re-located from Baghdad to northern Iraq, due to security concerns. By some estimates, nearly half of the Iraqi Christian community has left the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Later, we visited Al Qosh – the historical seat of the Chaldean Catholic Church — near the Turkish border. MCC is providing furnishings and operating support for St. Anne’s Orphanage, which offers a safe and loving environment for young children from Baghdad. In many cases their parents were killed as a result of the violence in Iraq.

Cindy with a young girl from an orphanage in northern Iraq

A highlight of the week was attending an engagement party for one of the staff members of an MCC partner organization. We even had a chance to practice Kurdish dancing!

This week’s Common Lectionary texts speak about conditions that help life to flourish.

The prophet Isaiah says that, just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return until they have watered the earth and caused it to “give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,” so God’s word never goes out from God’s mouth without accomplishing God’s purposes (Is. 55:10-11).

The psalmist marvels at God’s care for the earth and its inhabitants. God visits the earth, waters and enriches it, softens its furrows with showers and blesses their growth, crowns the year with bounty, provides the people with grain, and makes the pastures overflow and the meadows team with flocks (Ps. 65:9-13).

In the Epistle reading, Paul says that to set one’s mind on the Spirit is “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6b). Indeed, the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead gives life to our human bodies (v.11). By contrast, to set one’s mind on the flesh, or sinful nature, is death (v.6a).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the story of the sower. Just as soil conditions affect the growth and productivity of seeds, the proper conditions are also necessary for our lives to flourish. Good soil is like those who hear the message of God’s reign and understand it. They bear much fruit – in some cases a hundredfold (Matt. 13:23). By contrast, seeds that fall on the path, or upon rocky soil, or among thorns do not bear fruit. So, too, is the fate of those who hear the message of God’s kingdom but don’t understand it, or who have no roots to endure trouble or persecution, or who become preoccupied with the cares of the world or the lure of wealth (vv. 18-22).

In Iraq this week, we heard many stories suggesting that, for decades, the conditions in Iraq have not helped life to flourish. After years of colonial rule, Iraq endured the heavy-handed leadership of Saddam Hussein. For the past 28 years, the country has been torn by wars or suffocated by sweeping international sanctions.

Thankfully, the security situation is beginning to improve marginally and a small number of refugees and internally displace persons are beginning to return home – albeit, to immensely difficult circumstances. Overall, conditions in Iraq are still extremely volatile. Government at all levels is not functioning in healthy ways. After decades of Saddam Hussein’s leadership, people are not used to thinking and doing for themselves. NGOs like REACH are trying to introduce a more entrepreneurial spirit. They face a daunting task and deserve our support.

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