There’s a challenge with representing a group of people while visiting a place most of us will never have a chance to visit. As I reflect on that challenge, there are a few things that initially came to my heart and mind. First, part of me is now a little embarrassed of all the prayers for my safety going to these places that incite fear. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for them and believe they were answered, it’s just that those prayers are often centered on the fact that we were going to a dangerous place full of dangerous people. It’s not Grand Rapids for sure, but there was not a moment when I didn’t feel safe. Anywhere you go, there are dangerous people, but those dangerous people were none of the people that we interacted with.
Second, we still know so little, having spent only a few days in Lebanon and Iraq, meeting only a handful of people. There is so much more to learn, but the little I experienced is just like anywhere else: a collision of beauty and brokenness. You can see outward signs of the brokenness, but the people are beautiful and hospitable. A fun example were the shopkeepers in the souk (marketplace) that would not accept our money on a few occasions, simply saying, “guest” and “welcome”. I bet there aren’t many shopkeepers in the US who would welcome an Iraqi that way.
Finally, we’re humbled to have represented Crossroads on this journey. We hope you know that we do not take these travels lightly and there is always a purpose. Specifically, we are seeking God for some teachers that He might raise up from our body and it is our desire to have more than one person that can answer questions and share impressions of the work, place, and living conditions. Beyond the people that we may send from Crossroads, we hope to support the pioneering work in Iraq in ways that God leads us into.
Our hosts have a long-established team in Lebanon that met us for a meal in Beirut the night we arrived and also have a short-term team in Iraq right now and are getting their 4-person long term team established as well. Their primary purpose was to guide us on our journey, encourage their teams, and they also completed a bunch of raw photo and video work that will be used to communicate what is happening on the ground. Our primary purpose was to see first-hand the doors God has opened and to continue to pray through our part in the work.
Our final destination was the University and we attended classes in the science building. The short-term team was afforded opportunities to do work with the University professors and researchers teaching high level English that would be used for research writing. They were working with recently graduated adults in sharpening their English, which were a mix of various majors. I spoke with one Iraqi Doctor of Engineering in a longer conversation, which she said was her very first dialogue with a native English speaker. There are 4 long-term teachers that had not been in the classroom yet, but classes started on Tuesday, October 1st. The months of July, August and September are holiday for Iraqi students. These four teachers will all be teaching English in various levels throughout the school year.
The most exciting day of our tour involved our short visit to three classrooms. The exercise for the class included students that had to interview some of our team members, and we had to gather information on them. After a short period of time we would present briefly that information to the class. I was fortunate to be paired with a few amazing ladies, recent graduates of the veterinary program and they peppered me with questions, only letting me get in a couple questions of my own. Needless to say; they made quite an impression and I look forward to hearing stories of them hearing about a God who loves them enough to sacrifice his son so that they may have life to the full.
Our home while we were there, and the teachers' long term home, is the University Guest House. It was a comfortable home with dependable air conditioning and not so dependable wi-fi. Although I met a lot of people, I spent the most time with a young man who is 22 and a recent graduate with an English degree who hopes to teach himself IT programming. His desire is to stay in his hometown his whole life and wants to depend on nobody but himself. This was a recurring theme from conversations with students or recent graduates: those in authority over them have let them down and they want self-sufficiency – sounds familiar doesn’t it?
This is a powerful photo looking up to Saddam Hussein’s former Babylon Palace from ancient Babylon’s ruins. Saddam thought himself the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar II and as you can see, set his palace overlooking the ancient ruins as a statement of his superiority. The kingdoms of this earth rise and fall, but the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is eternal and unmoving. So many pictures could be shared but suffice it to say that both complexes are in ruins and seeing decay, some recent and some ancient.
The real point of our journey and the thing to end the update with is the focal point of all of our prayers: these 4 teachers that have committed 1–2 years of their life to the work at the University, and for those that may join them in the not so distant future. They will be teaching English to Iraqi students and offering a new hope that they’ve never known. Perhaps in these students there are some whom God has called to His great purposes for their city and for the world. That certainly is our prayer, and these guys need ours.