Iraqi Kurdistan: Powerful Prayer: reflection on Easter forgiveness

by Sandra Stevens

Christian families fleeing ISIS violence take refuge at the Virgin Mary Monastery in SuleimaniOn Easter morning, the team awoke at 4:00am to attend the Sunrise Service at the Chaldean Monastery.  Stepping across the threshold into the monastery’s courtyard, we noticed that it was very quiet.  A few people were awake but the day had not yet started.  It would be a work day for most, since Easter and Sundays are not holidays or days off in Kurdistan.

When I first came to the monastery several years ago it was a place for quiet reflection and meditation, a retreat center staffed by two priests and a sister.  Now it is a refugee center for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other Christian communities in Iraq and Syria. 

The Sunrise Service was conducted in both Arabic and English in alternating fashion – the Apostle’s Creed in Arabic, the blessing of the bread in English, the blessing of the wine in Arabic, and so on.  

One of the most powerful moments during the worship came when the Christians in the church prayed for God to forgive Al-Bagdadi, ISIS, Al-Shabaab, and finally, those who most recently massacred Christians in Kenya.  

As I stood there, I realized I still have much to learn about forgiveness.  My heart is still hardened after spending time in the refugee camps listening to the horrific stories of the Yazidis.  How could the people in that church who have suffered so much and lost everything they own ask God to forgive those who have committed such atrocities against them?  

Perhaps I should open my ears and heart to the story of Jesus’ passion and learn the lesson of Easter?  Standing shoulder to shoulder with Iraqi Christians has taught me much about this road I have yet to travel.

Sandra Stevens, from Iowa, USA, recently completed two years working half-time with the Iraqi Kurdistan team.  She continues as a CPT Reservist while completing a graduate degree in Peace Studies and Social Work.