Iraq Partnership Network seeks congregations in the U.S. to pray for cities in Iraq
by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service
NEW WILMINGTON, Penn. – In response to an invitation from the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Baghdad, the Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, South Carolina, and coordinator of the Iraq Partnership Network (IPN), is requesting every city in Iraq be covered in prayer by congregations in the U.S.
“We need congregations to help us,” said Sizoo, who has visited Iraq twice in the past three years. “Tell your congregation, ‘We’re going to pray for … Sulaymaniyah [or the name of the city you’re assigned].’”
Congregants won’t even have to pack a suitcase or renew their passport.
“They won’t have to go anywhere, except to their knees in prayer,” Sizoo said.
The IPN has been connecting Christians in Iraq and the U.S. in partnership for more than a decade. Through the network, participating congregations will be assigned a specific Iraqi city to commit to pray for at least one year. Some suggestions for prayer topics also will be offered.
“Some cities have no known Christians and some have active congregations,” Sizoo said. “We believe God is working throughout Iraq, in ways known and unknown.”
Two of the five original churches in Iraq founded through the United Mission to Mesopotamia [Iraq] are no longer able to meet for worship, according to the Rev. Elmarie Parker, PC(USA) regional liaison in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, who serves with her husband, Scott, who is a PC(USA) associate for ecumenical partnerships.
There are three remaining Reformed-heritage churches in the cities of Baghdad, Kirkuk and Basrah and, in the midst of their cities having been literal war zones, they gathered together and prayed, “Lord how may we be of service to you at this time.” Elmarie said, “I find that absolutely incredible.” They have continued to serve Christians and Muslims with open hearts through a variety of ministries reaching out to their communities, including preschools and primary schools.
Thousands of internally displaced families have taken refuge in the cities of Kirkuk and Baghdad. “PC(USA) partners were in a position of needing to respond, literally overnight to the needs of these families,” she said telling the story of the Presbyterian church in Kirkuk.
When a knock came on the door of the Kirkuk church the pastor and his wife were afraid, but they prayed, “Jesus what would you have us to do?” Feeling called to open the door, they encountered a young Orthodox father with three young children. After walking from Mosul, a distance that would take at least two hours to drive by car, with just the clothes on their back, this family became the first of 16 families, 65 people, who came to call the Kirkuk church their home.
In addition to meeting the immediate needs of displaced families, these three churches also have a vision for the long-term welfare of Iraq: to build up children through education so they will have an impact on the country, to see churches grow and to provide support in leadership development to sustain these churches.
A Presbyterian pastor from Iraq, visiting America for the first time in late July, said violence, persecution and fear have resulted in a Christian migration from Iraq with more than 80 percent of the Christians leaving the country for the United States, Australia, Europe, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
“In 2003, there were about 3 million Christians in Iraq, now there are about 350,000 only,” he said.
According to this pastor, the migration has taken “the cream” or the “educated part of the church [including] business people, doctors, professors, leaders in ministry and finance.”
“We still have a remnant of the faithful who need people to pray for us. Pray we keep our head above water,” he said. Of those Christians who left, he said, “I agree people have the freedom to choose where to live, but in peace not under fear.”
In 1969, after the Iraqi government nationalized the mission schools in Baghdad and Basra, American missionaries were forced to leave Iraq. It was nearly 40 years before anyone in the U.S. knew if there were still Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, Sizoo said.
“There were Christians in Iraq before there were Christians in America,” Sizoo said. “So we can’t claim to have brought Christianity to Iraq, but we can support and partner with these sisters and brothers in Christ as they seek to renew some of the historic faith there.”
The IPN, a collaborative of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ works to support the Iraqi Presbyterian churches they helped to establish through the United Mission to Mesopotamia [Iraq]. Through the network, PC (USA) congregations are helping to support the schools operated by the Iraqi Presbyterian churches and to support the work of these congregations in responding to the needs of thousands of internally displaced Iraqi families. As well, the network advocates for refugees admitted to the U.S.A.
PC(USA) church partners in Iraq are part of some other very exciting work that our Lord is doing in and through his church in Iraq. However, due to the sensitive nature of this work, details cannot be shared online. If you would like to learn more, so that you can be in prayerful support of this work, contact Joanne Sizoo through the Iraq Partnership Network or Elmarie Parker.
Will your congregation pray for a city in Iraq?
To adopt a city in Iraq in prayer for at least one year, email Joanne Sizoo. To learn more about the Iraq Partnership Network, visit the network’s Facebook page.
Scott and Elmarie Parker, PC(USA) associate for ecumenical partnerships and regional liaison in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, respectively, are traveling and speaking in many different locations in the U.S. through early October. Send them an email to learn about their schedule.
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