-by Pastor Mike Middaugh
Yesterday and today militant forces moved through northern Iraq overtaking the city of Mosul and advancing on Tikrit, which lies 95 miles north of Baghdad. As many as 500,000 of civilians living in the region have fled the cities to escape the conflict.
500,000. That’s a lot of people. Like 5/6ths of everyone living in D.C. proper, or more than the entire city of Little Rock and its suburbs where I grew up.
The temptation for us may be to think that this is “business as usual” in the oft war-torn region. Unfortunately, we have become desensitized because we see headlines like these so often: “Further Unrest in Ukraine”, “Karachi Airport Attacked by Gunmen”, “Nigerian Women Taken”. When these events aren’t personal, when they don’t affect our day-to-day, we sometimes fail to consider that these are people’s lives – no one wants to flee their city because of violence, even if they have had to before.
The situation in Iraq became personal to me a few days ago. When Scarlett’s babysitter arrived in the morning she asked me to pray for her home country. She and her family, Christians, and members of the Syriac Orthodox Church, moved from northern Iraq to the U.S. a little over two years ago. They were seeking safety and also good medical treatment for a daughter with Leukemia. I felt guilty telling her I would certainly pray, but that I didn’t know what was happening in Iraq. Our news outlets had not yet begun to focus on the story.
But as I listened to her talk, tears in her eyes, the situation became personal. I was suddenly connected to her people, members of her church back home, and relatives whose peaceful lives had been disrupted. This has led me to think again about how Christians are called to seek peace in the world and how we should, but don’t always, react upon hearing about violence.
We are called to pray for Peace. Praying for peace is sometimes hard because we mistake it for being passive. We may think of it as an empty gesture when we say we will pray for a situation or source of pain. But prayer, true prayer, is anything but passive. In actuality it is calling on the hand of the almighty and eternal God. The Bible tells us that when our prayers align with his will we are tapping into an incredible power. We also know that our God desperately wants peace in the world (so much that he gave his Son to die for it) and that when we pray for peace we are honoring his heart and his desires. But don’t mistake God’s desperation for passivity. God is at work in the world, and while in some situations he may be bidding his time, he is never inactive.
We are called to hurt when others hurt. We can never hope to do this perfectly. I will drive home at the end of the work day today, watch some TV this evening, and go to bed fully expecting my world to be intact tomorrow. I cannot begin know what it is like to flee your home because of violence, to not know where safety can be found. But even though we can never fully understand, we are called to hurt when others hurt. We experience this when someone in our church loses a spouse, gets sick, or is laid-off. Likewise we are called to experience a small piece of the pain of others, to consider their situation, rather than ignoring it, even when it is distant. All people are people God has made and whom he loves quite dearly. We have a common human bond, and with other Christians we share a tie even deeper, stronger than any national border, language or culture.
We are called to help when and where we are able. What can we do for those in Iraq? Probably not too much. But I can support Scarlett’s babysitter and her family and keep asking how things are. I can show her that I care, perhaps finding a small gesture of love and compassion for her and her loved ones. And while we cannot do much in some situations, there are many where we can. There are people all around us we can help out, lift up, and love. We cannot help in every situation, but we can help in some. In the other, more distant conflicts, we can pray for peace, pray for the Christian Church in those regions to be a force for good and for reconciliation, we can consider our own situation, being more thankful for what we have and less greedy for what we don’t.
We are fortunate to live in a country and time of relative peace. But that peace can make us lazy. It can make us presumptive, taking for granted what we have. Let us as Christians extend our sympathy and concern, our prayers and our help, for the many places and times when peace is not known.