I have been privileged to travel to Iraq three times since November, 2011, to spend time in fellowship and worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ in the evangelical, or presbyterian, churches. I have been in Basrah in the south three times! I have visited Kirkuk and Erbil, and also met some wonderful people from Baghdad and Mosul. As a matter of fact, I have met the entire remnant of the church family of Mosul. Four of them are sisters, Mary, Hana, Nadira and Adeeba.
The Presbyterian church in Mosul, Iraq, was the original of a small but thriving protestant church family that was founded by missionaries in the 19th century, part of the great missionary movement of that time. These four sisters had a brother who was an elder in the church. After the war which began in 2003, insurgents came to Mosul and it became very difficult to be a professing Christian there. The brother was kidnapped and assassinated. The family was asked to pay for the bullet which killed him. I can hardly recount the memory of hearing this story from these women without seeing their faces in my mind, sorrow evident at such a loss.
They stayed in Mosul and found a way to protect the historic building of their church, even though they could not worship there any more. It was located in a very dangerous part of a city in a dangerous part of the world. Yet they managed to hire a guard who would stay there and protect it. It was more than just a precious place to them for the value of a building: it was a reminder that the church was born in places like this at the very beginning. not long after the resurrected Christ instructed the disciples to become apostles and sent them out to build the church. And they did. Mosul was the home of Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, and others, including the Presbyterians.
Today I received word that ISIS, this conquering, brutal, extremist group that swept into Mosul a few weeks back and took control, has ordered that all remaining Christians leave or face the consequences. Death. That is what they mean. And so the remaining body of Christ in that place moves into the diaspora that is happening in other parts of the world.
I do have word that these dear sisters had already moved to a safer place in the north, leaving behind the beloved church building they had long protected since the death of their brother. And this must make the sting of his death hurt afresh. I know my heart breaks again for them and for all the faithful in a place where Jonah the prophet was buried. It is an ancient place and a reminder that the faith I profess has been handed down through generations of saints and martyrs who suffered to share the good news with us all.
In an upper room in Erbil, Iraq, in November, 2012, we worshipped in song and prayer. Adeeba and her sisters sang out at the top of their lungs because they could, which was something they couldn’t do in Mosul then. On a later bus trip that we took to Kirkuk, Adeeba broke into “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful.” It was the most joyful rendition of that Christmas carol I have ever heard and we all joined in.
When I wrote about “peace through music” yesterday I wasn’t thinking of that. But I am today and I am longing that Adeeba, her sisters, and all the faithful of that place will find peace again and be able to raise their voices in musical celebration.