Letters from Iraqi Presbyterians

In January, we began an e-mail conversation with a church in southern Iraq, the National Presbyterian Church in Basra. Our exchanges are listed below, beginning with the most recent. Please also read the News Release from the Presbyterian Church (USA) about our and others’ efforts.

Update from May 2003 Newsletter:

People often ask if we have heard from Zuhair Fathallah of the National Presbyterian Church in Basrah, Iraq. We have not heard from him since March 2, 2003, and still have no word. But Victor Makari, who works for the Presbyterian national office in Louisville and wrote us a month ago to say he’d not been able to contact Dr. Fathallah by telephone, wrote the following from Cairo on April 24:

News Brief from the Middle East

Today, I was able to reach the Rev. Nuhad Tomeh, PC(USA)’s mission co-worker appointed to serve with the Middle East Council of Churches and currently charged with coordinating MECC relief efforts for Iraq. Nuhad informed me that he finally heard from our colleague, Mr. Edward Esho, MECC site coordinator inside Iraq. Mr. Esho is now working with refugees outside Mosul. He has made several trips to Baghdad, and has visited the churches.

First-hand report indicates that the Presbyterian churches in Baghdad and in Mosul are managing fairly well under the circumstances. The Arabic Evangelical Church of Baghdad was able to gather for services on Good Friday and on Easter. The Good Friday service of worship was telecast on Iraqi television, his report said.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, general Secretary of the MECC, is currently traveling through Kuwait, and is hoping to be able to go into southern Iraq and visit Basrah.

Victor Makari
Area Coordinator for the Middle East and Europe
(writing from Cairo)

March 2, 2003
Dear Rev. Barton,

Thank you for your last e-mail. All the people of Iraq are now stocking food. I wish if you can see what an average person is keeping, may be a mini supermarket.

Although we are praying that the Lord will hear us and give wisdom to the leaders of all nations to stop the war. No body would like to pass through the same experience during 1991 in Bush war No.1, when the people were on the verge of starvation after six weeks of continuous shelling. So don’t be surprised if I told you that we have a sacks of charcoal in case that our stock of cooking gas & kerosene will finish.

Thank you again & God bless you.

Zuhair Fathallah

February 28, 2003
Dear Dr. Fathallah,

I just heard a report on the radio from a Times of London reporter in Baghdad. She said that people there are preparing for war by stocking up on water, and taping their windows, and moving glass things away from the walls, and deciding to stay because they have no other homes out of the city to go to. It is very sad. And it continues to make many of us here angry that our country could be the cause of such anxiety and fear.

We continue to pray for you and your church and your city of Basra. I understand you have a saying, “It is written.” In French maybe it would be “que sera, sera,” meaning “what will happen, will happen, and there’s nothing to be done.” Perhaps that is true. On the other hand, can anything be too wonderful for God (Genesis 18:14)? We continue to work and pray for God to do a new thing, that peace may come.

In Christ,
Scott Barton
First Congregational Church
Bennington, Vermont USA

February 9, 2003
Dear Dr. Fathallah,

Thank you for your reply! Worship here at the church begins in one hour. I will tell the congregation about your latest e-mail. They will be glad to know of it.

I will also tell the magazine in Louisville, Kentucky that they may use the picture if they want. Thank you so much. If it is published in the magazine, I will see that you get a copy.

We will remember you, Dr. Fathallah, and all your congregation, in our prayers this morning. Our text for the day is from Mark 1:29-39. Jesus is always reaching out to more people beyond what everyone thought he might be able to do. His charity did not stay at home, where he felt safe and comfortable. It always showed God’s love overflowing beyond the usual boundaries.

Peace be with you, today and in the days ahead.

In Christ,
Scott L. Barton
First Congregational Church
Bennington, VT

February 8, 2003
Dear Rev. Barton,

Thank you very much for your e-mail. You have my permission to have our kids pictures in your publications or the web site. Its so nice of you to share the pictures with others. I would like to ask you a copy of the page for the children’s parents.

Thank you again and god bless you.

Dr. Zuhair Fathallah

February 6, 2003
Dear Mr. Fathallah,

I have been asked by the Presbyterian News Service if they can publish the picture you sent me of the children standing on the steps of the church. May I give them permission to publish the picture in a national church magazine? What do you think about putting the picture on a website?

Many of us at the church are dismayed at the continued words which threaten peace. We hope you are well, and we continue to keep you in our prayers.

In Christ,
Scott Barton
First Congregational Church
Bennington, VT, USA

January 28, 2003
Dear Mr. Fathallah,

Thank you very much for your reply. We will certainly keep you and your congregation in our prayers. And I hope it is all right if I tell others about you and ask them to remember you as well, in our church newsletter this week.

Thank you also for the pictures. I wish we all had the faith of the children who hold the “Merry Christmas” greeting! Your church building looks like it must be a strong witness to the gospel of peace.

May you and all you love be safe, and know the presence of God and the support of your friends here.

Scott Barton
First Congregational Church
Bennington, Vermont, US

January 24, 2003

Dear Rev. Barton,

Thank you for your e-mail of support. On behalf of my church congregation and myself I would like to express my appreciation for your brotherly feeling and your support to us at this time of politician rage who are Christian and celebrate the birth of our Lord the saviour Lord of peace. We celebrate this Christmas in Basra with the music of the siren warning from air raid, and this is the usual story every Christmas. Attached is the some picture of the church in Basra.

Thank you again for your great concern of your fellow Presbyterians. May the lord be with you always.

Zuhair Fathallah (Elder)

Chairman of the Session.

P.S. Rev. Gilbert, Elder R. Hadadd, Elder G. Ashoo, have left Iraq, as they think they can not stand the future war.

Photograph of Presbyterian Church in BasrahBasrah Presbyterian children holding Merry Christmas 

January 22, 2003
Dear Rev. Gilbert Albazi, Elder Ghazi Ashoo, Elder Dr. Riad Haddad, Elder Dr. Zuhair Fathallah and the National Presbyterian Church, Basra, Iraq,

I want you to know that even though you are strangers to us (at the First Congregational Church of Bennington, Vermont, U.S.), as the letter to the Ephesians (2:19) says, in Christ you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. We want you to know that we pray for you and we also pray for the time when there will be no threat of war between our two countries. Not everyone in America agrees that there needs to be war, and I hope you know that many are seeking peace in many ways. Most of all, we pray that God will be with both our countries and show us the way to peace.

“God…is not partial, …and loves the strangers” (Deuteronomy 10:18). I have learned of you from my home church, the New Hartford, New York Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. I am a Presbyterian minister and am pastor in Vermont. Please give the greetings and well-wishes of our church here to all your congregation.

In Christ,
Scott Barton
First Congregational Church
Bennington, VT USA