My heart has been heavy this week. I’ve been thinking of Peshraw, Hezhar, Soran, Housain, and dozens more. These were some of my dear Kurdish friends that I met while in Athens. They were refugees, forced from their homelands due to war, persecution, or politics. These Kurdish friends have been on my mind since watching “Better Friends than Mountains” – a film documenting one small group of Christian workers serving today among the Kurds of Northern Iraq. They are just a stone’s throw from the front lines of the war with the Islamic State. If you haven’t watch this film yet, be sure to check it out!
The Kurds are a diverse people. Today Kurdistan (a cultural and geographical truth – but not a political reality) includes portions of SE Turkey, Syria, NE Iraq, and Iran. The modern Kurdish experience can vary greatly (from having the Kurdish language banned in Turkey to governing an autonomous region in Iraq), but one thing has remained constant: The Kurds are a people without a country. While distrust and tribalism are certainly present between different Kurdish factions, the longing for a country of their own unites this diverse people group.
As I’ve been thinking of these Kurdish friends, my mind drifted back to first meeting Iraqi Kurds in Athens. They were quick to greet me: “Beyanît baş.” Good morning. In the midst of the many languages floating around our ministry center (Greek, Farsi, Arabic, Russian, and more), it took me a month just to learn this simple greeting. These Kurds became friends. I stumbled upon a blog entry from our first months in Athens (2007), just as a new wave of Kurds were entering Greece:
We’re averaging over 600 meals per day. In addition to the temperature drop, the political atmosphere on this side of the world has increased the flow of refugees. Greece is now claiming that Turkey has been neglecting its boarders – allowing refugees to travel into Greece with little impediment. The instability of the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran (not least due to Turkey’s recent military action in Kurdish Iraq) has quicken the flow of refugees. We are experiencing an influx of Kurdish refugees. Have been here for 3.5 months now, it is breath-taking to see how quickly people move from one nation to another.
I’m thankful to consider some of these young men as friends, but it was a true honor to witness some of these Kurdish refugees come to Christ. While I was looking over some older blog posts, I came across “Zee’s” (not his real name) testimony:
Coming from a very religious household in Kurdish Iraq, Zee’s father was an imam (prayer leader/teacher) at the local mosque. From a young age, however, Zee rebelled against his strict Islamic upbringing. Zee joined the communist party as a teenager and became very active in Kurdish politics. Soon, though, Zee began to see a political solution was hopeless. Zee was left unfulfilled by communism, but was unwilling to return to the Islam of his childhood. Zee met a group of Christian friends in Kurdistan and slowly – after initially mocking their faith – began asking question about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. While these “gospel seeds” germinated, Zee left Kurdistan for Europe. In Greece, Zee meet other Kurdish Christians at our ministry and continued to ask questions about Jesus. Eventually, Zee’s heart and mind were convinced that Christianity was consistent. Even more, Zee saw that Jesus did not prescribe a list of religious activities or laws, but offered salvation by grace. This grace was radically different than anything Zee had seen in Islam or the communist party. It was this grace that grabbed Zee’s heart. Zee asked Jesus to be Lord of his life, and was baptized in August of 2008.
I can think of other stories much like Zee’s… and I’m praying for many more stories of Kurds following Jesus! Would you join me in praying for the Kurds? Here are seven simple ways to pray:
1 – Pray for peace. Whether it’s the Islamic State, gassings by Saddam Hussain, or conflicts with the Turkish government, the Kurds have known almost constant conflict for decades.
2 – Pray for workers. The fields are ready for harvest. Let’s pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more workers dedicated to the field of Kurdistan. Pray God’s strength to those who will come and those who are already in country!
3 – Pray for the church. There are a small number of Kurdish Christians. Pray for their endurance, their faith, and their growth in the grace of God! May the church in Kurdistan cling to Jesus, growing daily in their faith.
4 – Pray for boldness. May these Kurdish Christians have courage in their witness. Like the early church, may they have boldness in sharing the goodness and glory of Jesus Christ.
5 – Pray for the refugees. Many Kurds live as refugees and Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) across the Middle East and Europe. Pray for these refugees would come to know the God who sees and cares, right in the midst of their weakness.
6 – Pray for leaders. Kurdistan needs selfless leaders. May God raise up strong leaders for the Kurdish church. Leaders who are committed to the priority of God and the beauty of His bride. Can we be so bold to ask that some of these leaders come from the ranks of the persecutors – an apostle Paul for the Kurdish nation?
7 – Pray for new life. Pray for the hearts of those who don’t know and follow Jesus. May they be softened and moved to faith. May God stir hundreds, and thousands, and eventually millions of Kurds to faith in His Son.