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OSMTH-I on Christian Crisis in Syria, Egypt with refugee needs in Jordon, Turkey & Iraq
Iraq Update 3 - May 24, 2013

Dear Friends,

The team and I thank you for the continuing messages of prayer and encouragement.

Sometimes Faith-Based Diplomacy involves Strategic Waiting. When we arrived at the hotel inn Erbil, Iraq at 4:00 am on Monday we learned that the border between Syria and Iraq had been closed owing to a dispute between the two major Kurdish political parties. This meant that 80 percent of our conference participants would not be allowed to come. We were told that it was not likely that the border would open quickly. In fact, the border remains closed even as I write. The most natural reaction would have been to cut our losses and turn around and go home. However, we believed that we needed to demonstrate spiritual resolve by staying and working to move things forward which has included prayer and fasting. Genesis 50 teaches us that God uses all things for good and to accomplish his greater purposes. Yesterday as the team prayed we thanked God for the border closure and all the obstacles we have encountered. As a result of all these obstacles a small workshop involving 30 Syrian Kurdish leaders and Syriac Christian leaders fro the Al-Hassake region has now provoked conversations at the highest level of the government including President Barzani himself and statements by political leaders in the media about our conference. Do they want Faith-Based Reconciliation in the region ? How does this fit with Kurdish aspirations? Are they prepared and willing to begin the healing process from the deep and profound wounds that are here in the region? Our presence and focus on utilizing the Faith-Based Reconciliation process to develop a new social contract between the Syrian Kurds and the Syriac Christians of Al-Hassake region of Syria has unwittingly provoked a public conversation amongst Kurdish leaders. Thanks be to God!  Instead of simply impacting 30 people in a workshop we have now impacted the government and Kurdish leaders at the highest levels. It has confronted Kurdish leaders with the same question that Jesus asked the lame man "Do you want to be healed?" Both Kurds and Syriac Christians have suffered under brutal dictators and the wounds here in the heart of ancient Assyria are deep and profound.

Strategic waiting has also exposed some of the opposition to our efforts here. For at least two groups our efforts at healing and reconciliation are are viewed as a threat to their interests. We have learned that there are people actively working to derail our efforts. One group are those who benefit from keeping the conflict going in Syria and do not want to see stability in the Al-Hassake region. The second group consists of certain leaders from the Syrian National Council (Syrian opposition leaders) who know Bassam and me, who know the nature of our work and are trying to detail it so that they can put on their own larger conference for the Al-Hassake region and claim to be the first to do this. We are not in competition with anyone and are not here to claim the credit for being the first to do anything. We are servants seeking to bring God's compassion to people who have suffered so deeply both Christians and Muslims.

On the grand scale of things Bassam Ishak and I are nobodies. We have no great titles. We do not have unlimited resources. We are not here to promote ourselves. But we serve a mighty God. Bassam is a Syrian leader who has been my friend for 27 years since we first met at Church of the Apostles in the Washington DC area in 1986. He had to flee Damascus two years ago when he learned that he was about to be arrested by the regime. He made his way to Beirut and then to Cairo. Since that time he has emerged as a formidable part of the Syrian opposition leadership and a solo voice for national healing and reconciliation. I believe that God brought us together for such a time as this. In November 2011 I was in Cairo to meet with leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood including Mohammed Morsi. It was at that time that Bassam brought me into the whole Syrian conflict by working with opposition leaders. Last year we conducted two conferences in Cairo for Syrian opposition leaders focusing on national healing and reconciliation.

As I sit here feeling like a small cog in the midst of enormous geopolitical forces that are fighting for the soul of Syria I am reminded of the words of Sheik Salah Kuftaro to me in 2005 in Damascus " I have listened carefully to your words about Faith-Based Reconciliation and have concluded that this is not the work of a Washington DC NGO, but rather the work of the prophets"

Keep us in prayer. The outcome of this trip is still very much unknown at this time. But God is at work.

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