Revd Canon John Kafwanka, Director for Mission at the Anglican Communion Office
St George's Church in Baghdad attracted international headlines frequently during the time of Canon Andrew White, who was in constant danger as he ministered to both the Christians and other people of the Iraqi capital. It was a ministry which included highlighting the suffering of the citizens and the important work of St George's Church and its health clinic in serving them.
Canon Andrew’s successor is Father Faiz Jerjees, who first joined St George’s in 2006. I met him recently and was inspired by what I heard about the work there. He told me that the Church, clinic and kindergarten were giving hope to many in what is a very desperate situation.
"We have about 150 children in the church kindergarten known as ‘the Redeemer’,” he said, emphasising that more than 90% are from Muslim families.
"The parents greatly value the safe environment of learning, the subjects offered in the school, including simple things of behaviour and values,” he said. “Children are able to relate what they learn in school to everyday life experience, and the parents are very happy to see the positive development of their children."
He recalled the story of how one child had given her father an important safety lesson. The girl told her father that he should always stop at red traffic lights when driving through the city. The man usually went straight through red lights just like everyone else. When he questioned his daughter, she explained that she had been taught in school that people should stop at red lights because it was not safe to keep driving. The father was so thrilled that the children were learning such positive messages at the Church school that he went into the school to thank Fr Faiz personally.
To most people such a simple safety lesson may be nothing unusual. But as Fr Faiz pointed out to me life in Baghdad is not usual. Parents are now seeing fruits of hope in their children and want them to stay longer in this school. In fact, they have asked that the school be expanded and cater for primary level.
Fr Faiz and St George's -- with support of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, which includes Iraq -- have risen to this challenge.
"The plans are done, foundations have been prepared and some money has been raised to start the school construction any time now,” Fr Faiz told me. “But we will need more money to complete the school and be ready to start at the beginning of the new academic year in October 2017. We are praying and are hopeful that we will find the rest of the money and fulfil what we promised to the parents that the school will be ready in October.
Fr Faiz went on: "We are preparing a new and peace-loving generation filled with hope for their nation and for themselves."
I found it immensely encouraging hearing that amidst chaos and insecurity, in a small way, the Redeemer school through St George's Church, is contributing to a generation of peace lovers and reconcilers.
The church has a strong worshipping community with four services a week. The main one brings together around 250-300 Christians. There is also a flourishing youth service of about 70 young people, and special prayer meeting called the Ring. It meets weekly when the congregation forms a ring to pray for peace and reconciliation, for wholeness of community and humanity.
"We try to give a different picture of life amidst all the pain,” explained Fr Faiz. “We try through God to give a sense of hope."
And he told me that the clinic’s ministry is also having an impact. Founded in 2007, it continues to provide free medical service for all kinds of health conditions.
I came away from my time with Fr Faiz humbled by what I had heard and determined to pray for Iraq in general, for Fr Faiz and for the ministries of St George's Church, particularly for the funding needed for the expansion of school. I hope you will join me in praying for them.