In northern Iraq, Christian leaders are coming together for training to help them lead, disciple and encourage their churches. Your prayers and support are helping Iraqi believers to have hope for the future of the church.
Father Fadi is excited about the training he's received and is looking forward to share what he's learned with his church. “Change is a journey,” he says
In Erbil, northern Iraq, Christian leaders – priests, pastors and lay people – are gathering for leadership training. Jesus’ last commandment to His disciples before His ascension was to ‘make disciples’ (Matthew 20:19), and these leaders want to take this command seriously. Anyone wanting to grow in their leadership skills and experience can apply for the training.
Father Fadi, one of the delegates, is the caretaker and manager of Mar Johanna Al Dailami monastery in Qaraqosh. He was concerned that discipleship was growing stagnant in some parts of his church. “We need to change,” he says. “We must reformulate our intellectual, moral, behavioural system into one that will be Christ-centred.”
“How can we help our people not to leave the country?” Father Ayad
The nine-day conference (split over three sessions throughout the year) takes place in a hotel. The lessons are interactive, and delegates are invited to share their views. Participants are thoughtful as they discuss and present their perspectives.
Father Ayad serves as a priest in two parishes in Kirkuk province in northern Iraq. “We know that ministry means pressure. We need this training as long as our [leadership] journey continues,” he says. “Political and religious conflicts led to violence in Kirkuk. It was and is a challenge for us. How can we help our people not to leave the country, to maintain our Christian existence amidst persecution, violence, explosions, killing and the kidnappings we witnessed for many years in Kirkuk?”
Fr Fadi says that illiteracy is a big problem, saying, “People don't read. We don’t read our holy Bible.” He sees people chasing traditions and habits which aren’t core to the Christian faith. “We act as if these things are holy, and the core of our faith gets lost, so we need Christian education.
“We in the Middle East need academic information and academic people,” he adds. “They don't only address people’s emotions, but also our minds.”
Rajaa Gorgees is a primary school teacher. She says that people nowadays don’t accept the idea of being led by someone. She says that this can make leaders feel insecure, worried that they’re doing something wrong. “The training helps us to always return to God, to the Bible,” she says. “Without doing that, we will reach a point where we’re tired and can’t continue.”
The training is ‘a journey in building a healthy community’, according to Fr Ayad. He tries to guide his congregation ‘to have Christ in the centre’. “This training is very positive; it helps me to develop skills in my work as a servant in the church. It also helps me in self-discipline.”
Father Jacoub appreciates that the training is ecumenical, bringing together Christian leaders from lots of different churches – united in Jesus Christ.
“We got ideas that help us as leaders,” shares Sister Mayada. “Personally, this is such a big thing for me to serve the glory of God in a better way.”
Father Behnam adds, “This training is built on Jesus Christ, how He led and prepared the disciples to have them as future leaders, to deliver the good news and establish churches. I studied a lot, but I didn’t know that Jesus was a leader and He raised other leaders.
“This training is built on Jesus Christ, how He led and prepared the disciples to have them as future leaders” Father Benham
“They come here to teach us, build our personalities. It’s like giving fuel to help us to continue driving, to continue our ministry. They make us aware of how to behave when going through different dilemmas as leaders.”
By the end of the training day, Fr Fadi is feeling enthusiastic. He would like to participate in this training for a whole year. “I need to listen to academic people,” he reflects. “Change is a journey. It is not a momentary thing; growth comes through the training sessions. We need an organisation [like Open Doors] that takes care of our minds and thoughts. Lift us from this illiteracy which we are in.”
In looking to Jesus’ example of leadership and discipleship-making, these leaders are hoping to encourage their churches – and the next generation of church leaders – to remain in Iraq. Please pray that they can successfully convey their teaching, enthusiasm and hope to their congregations.
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