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Pastoral Training in Iraq

September 19, 2014 by Open Doors in ,
Iraqi Refugee Camp Iraq is in turmoil. Thousands upon thousands of Christians have fled their houses in fear of the terror of the Islamic State (IS). Just before the current turmoil, Open Doors offered an online pastoral course to those attending a seminary through a local partner. When the turmoil started, two participants, Martin and Daniel, were prompted to put the things they learned into practice, much earlier than they had expected! Calling Just a few months earlier, Martin was one of the students that took a seat on the benches of the seminary. He was there to learn about the pastoral course that was offered to him and his classmates by Open Doors through a partner organization. The online course offered students several pastoral subjects to choose from and study. He shared how the pastoral course added value to their theological training, and that it offered the subjects and topics they knew would help them in shepherding a congregation someday. I asked him why he dedicated his life to the church, even though it could cost him his life: “It’s a calling.” he stated, “The church has always felt like my home; it’s in my heart.” The bishop that always encouraged him to become a priest was among the many clergymen killed in Iraq for their faith. But this didn’t stop him: “I don’t occupy my thoughts with thinking about the risks too much; I just do what I am called to do.” Refugee Camp in Iraq Thrown Into The Deep End It wasn’t just words for Martin. A few months later, while Martin was serving as an assistant to the priest, his task as a shepherd started much earlier than expected. He was in his village when it came under threat by the Islamic State (IS). In the middle of the night, he saw the Kurdish army retreating, and so Martin fled. He thought he would be able to return home quickly, but like the rest of his village, he is still in a Kurdish city waiting. In his village, IS has taken the crosses off of the churches and scared away the last remaining Christians. Martin’s family lives abroad, and he is the only one of his family still living in Iraq. Emigrating would seem like the easy solution, but he stays. While he had a visa to visit them this summer, Martin stayed in Iraq to serve his people: “How can I leave them in this time of crisis?” Through local partners, Martin’s church is supported by Open Doors with relief aid, and Martin is helping to get it to his people. But he primarily wants to take care of them pastorally. He visits families, but also takes time for the children. They come running to him whenever he arrives. “Everything that I’ve learned at school and in the pastoral course, I can now use to serve these people,” he says. Pastor Daniel A few miles down the road Daniel, one of Martin’s classmates that also took part in the training is busy preparing children’s activities for that night. He knew he had a passion to serve his church while he sat in his air-conditioned seminary, but now, he is here in a tent camp among the refugees, serving them from early morning until late evening in the blistering heat. Prayer As Fuel When Martin was still within the comfortable confines of seminary a few months ago, he shared how important prayer was to him. “Without prayer, I feel alienated from everything,” he said. Now, in this crisis situation, he emphasizes how much this is still true for him today: “Trust in God and prayer- that is what keeps me going in these hectic days.” Daniel shares that he feels motivated by the prayer and support he gets from the worldwide church: “When I read the words of encouragement, I wanted to cry. When you’re in such a situation, you think that the world has forgotten about us, but now I see that our brothers and sisters are thinking about us and praying for us.”
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