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
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