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