Learning Peace From a Land With Little of It

I am writing from the Kurdish region of Iraq – a place that has known little peace for so long.
Nonetheless, I am with people who love peace and seek peace. Their slogan is “waging peace in a broken world.” They are younger Kurds who are working for a very different future than their parents or grandparents had.
The Kurdish people have lived in a world of UNpeace for centuries, mostly recently under the regime of Saddam Hussein who repeatedly used chemical weapons against them. Today there is strife and unrest all around the Kurdish region –
  • To the east, young Iranians are rising up against a repressive regime
  • To the north, Ukrainians are fighting the largest land war since World War 2 against an invading Russian army
  • To the west and south, Iraqis are rising up against their government in an ongoing sectarian feud
Westerners sometimes believe we have the answers for the world’s problems. We have to be the “smartest people in the room.” And we often believe we are. However, in the Middle East we are often the last people to enter the room and we surely know the least about the problems of this part of the world.
The notion of peace – shalom in Hebrew and Salem in Arabic – is so much more nuanced .. and subtle … and intricate than the latest political or military strategy. It has much more to do with the lived experiences of people serving others.
Shalom spreads in the midst of a refugee camp where we meet people in distress and enter into their world. And in subtle ways we show God’s love to them.
Yesterday I got my hair cut by a guy named Ibraham who is from another part of Iraq and is now living in the Ashti IDP Camp. He is rebuilding his life as best he can in the midst of his world being turned upside down.
This morning as we were opening the medical clinic there was quite a crowd gathered outside. I think they know tomorrow is the last day of the clinic and that they need to try to get an appointment. I spent time with our Kurdish staff to organize people, get them registered, and offer a cup of water while they waited in 90 degree heat. It was admittedly a small gesture.
And such is the work of peacemaking – many, many small gestures to help people take their next step in life.

A Torn Veil and Open Doors

Watch a talk given by Brian Newman entitled “A Torn Veil and Open Doors” about valuing the “other” in our lives. Click on the photo to view the message.

Encountering the Person of Peace

You know when you find him – the “person of peace.” Welcoming, calm and relaxed, inquisitive, warm, kind, always looking out for the other.

Some places in the world are so divided that it is astonishing when a person of peace crosses your path. I had this immeasurable pleasure in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

I was invited into Yasar’s home (not his real name) for something of a clandestine study of the book of James. Yasar is Kurdish and is married to an Arab woman, which in itself is unheard of in that part of the world. Kurds despise Iraqi Arabs because of Saddam Hussein, who unleashed chemical weapons on the Kurds 20 years ago.

Yasar is unassuming, quiet, halting in his English. His eyes are sensitive and tinged with sadness and joy all at once. His wife is sanguine, welcoming, kind in so many ways. When you enter their home in the city you feel like you belong all at once, that you could stay there for months without any difficulty.

The little study of James chapter 1 begins around the crowded kitchen table. The first 10 verses are read in Kurdish – Bibles in the Kurdish language are rare so Yasar has made photocopies of pages for the people who have come. Yasar then simply asks, “What is God saying to us in these words?” And then he listens, takes in the collective wisdom of the group, he shares only sparingly. He thanks us over and over again for visiting his family, and for sharing our wisdom.

By the end I feel like I am “melting” in the goodness and grace of this person of peace. He and his wife started to follow Jesus almost 20 years ago. Yasar told me he was and is “totally captivated” by this Jewish messiah.

That Jesus messiah surely rubbed off on this Kurdish person of peace.