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OSMTH-I on Christian Crisis in Syria, Egypt with refugee needs in Jordon, Turkey & Iraq
Iraq Update 4 - May 26, 2013

Dear Friends,

Thank you for all your messages and prayers for the team and me here in Erbil, Iraq. We have been buoyed by your prayers. Here is the latest update.

Two days ago we learned that the border closure would not be lifted anytime soon and that the likelihood that our participants would be able to come from Syria was remote to nonexistent. Until that time we had been actively working with the government, the leaders of the two major Kurdish political parties and the Syriac Union Party to get the Syriac Christian and Kurdish participants from Syria to Erbil.

We were actively working on two options. In the first option we were working with the President's office to bring the participants here via Turkey. In the second option we were working with the government and the leaders of the political parties on both sides of the border to bring the participants across in an unofficial way that would still maintain the border closure. In the end neither effort bore results.

Yesterday Bassam and I held a number of meetings but two were particularly significant. The first was with the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (Barzani's Party). He expressed strong support for making a second attempt in mid July to have the Faith-Based Reconciliation conference in Erbil and even outlined a strategy for it to have a maximum impact. The second meeting was with the President's Ambassador to the Syrian Opposition. He expressed the strong support of the government for our conference and even encouraged us to expand the size of it and to include some leaders from the Syrian National Council. We discussed the possibility of a meeting with President Barzani and he said he would try to arrange it for us.  He also suggested a different venue and took us to the hotel, introduced us to the manager and got us reduced special government prices. It was also recommended that we try to do two conferences back to back with the first conference focusing on forging a new social contract and the second conference would use the Faith-Based Reconciliation process to focus on political and security issues in the Al-Hassake region, particularly as it affects the minority Syriac Christians. It was suggested that the first conference include Syrian Kurds and Syriac Christians and that the second conference include Syrian Kurds, Syriac Christians and Arab Bedouin tribal leaders.

Even veteran faith-based diplomats such as Bassam and I know when to push back from the table, collect our winnings and plan for another day. We realized we had reached that point. As we depart from Erbil this morning we do so with certain insights.

First of all, a faith-based diplomat has to discern whether obstacles are the result of the forces of darkness or whether they are from the Lord to prevent us from running ahead of his time and purposes. We came to the realization that the border closure, the obstacles and the negotiations were being used by the Lord to create a more impactful scenario than we could ever imagine. As a result of all this our work and message have not merely impacted a workshop of 30 Kurdish and Syriac Christian leaders but the Kurdish government at the highest levels, the major political parties and begun a public conversation about the nature and desireability of Faith-Based Reconciliation in the heart of ancient Assyria. As we read between the lines of our conversations here it appears that there is a certain level of curiousity and nervousness that Faith-Based Reconciliation represents more than a workshop but the potential for systemic change in the hearts of people and in the dynamics of political community in the region. Leaders here are wondering does Faith-Based Reconciliation promote or detract from Kurdish aspirations in the region.  These questions are normal and natural when leaders encounter a totally new idea for dealing with conflict in the strategic political realm.

Secondly, we depart with a perspective that stands in profound awe at the power and ways of God. Consider this: in March when Bassam and I arrived in Erbil for the first time with John Rouse we knew nobody and had no appointments. Bassam accidentally dialed the number of Dr. Mahmoud Al-Arbo a Kurdish professor of Political Science from Salahaddin University. He immediately came to our hotel and turned out to be an angel in disguise. He quickly grasped the nature and importance of our mission and within a short time our schedule was filled with appointments with political leaders and academics. We began from nothing and within two short visits to Erbil we have seen our message penetrate at the highest levels. That did not come about because Bassam and I are clever political operators. It came about by the supernatural grace of God. God is able to take things far beyond our human efforts.

Thirdly, is the importance of demonstrating spiritual resolve. On Monday when we learned of the border closure it would have been easy to cut our losses and immediately return home. Instead we engaged in prayer and fasting as well as negotiation. By this we demonstrated that we are not a force to be dismissed lightly as naive do gooders who can be easily discouraged. I have learned over the years that in situations of violent intractable identity-based conflict that indigenous leaders will test your mettle to see if you are someone to be taken seriously or not. We have no intention of giving up or going away. This week we demonstrated that to them.

Finally, for many years I have been concerned about the plight of Christians in the Holy Land and the Middle East. In my many conversations with Christian leaders in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Iraq I have discovered that everyone can describe the problem, but no one seems to have solutions. Bassam is a passionate advocate for the Syriac Christian community of Syria. We had hoped that our efforts in the Al-Hassake region with using the Faith-Based Reconciliation process to forge a new social contract between Kurds and Syriac Christians could provide a potential model for this advocacy.

I should also mention that our work here in Erbil is under the auspices of the International Center For Religion and Diplomacy in Washington DC. ICRD grew out of a landmark book edited by my colleague Dr. Douglas Johnston "Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft" ICRD seeks to integrate faith and politics in the cause of peacemaking and reconciliation. Our focus is particularly on intractable identity-based conflicts. We have a great team there. Our Exec VP James Patton came over to ICRD from the State Dept and is overseeing ICRD's new project in Colombia and Rebecca Cataldi has facilitated our communication with the State Dept which is funding this project. She is one of the very capable younger generation of faith-based diplomats.

Bassam and I are on our way today to Istanbul. Tomorrow we fly to Mardin and go to Midyat as well just across the Turkish border with Syria. Many Syriac Christians have sought refuge there from the Al-Hassake region. Keep us in your prayers. Many thanks to Chander and Kanta Khanna our prayer and fasting team from Jammu & Kashmir in India, to Dana Moldovan our logistics person and one of my students from the Straus Institute and Alia Ismail from Beirut another former Straus institute student of mine.


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