Standing in Solidarity with Syria and Iraq

A look into the "plight of Christians in Syria and Northern Iraq, where war against ISIS and other extremist groups has persisted for the last six years."

Back in December, some friends invited me to attend a screening of a documentary about the plight of Christians in Syria and Northern Iraq, where war against ISIS and other extremist groups has persisted for the last six years. During these years I’ve tried to understand this conflict, both personally and professionally through my previous work in conflict zones, and seeing this documentary moved my desire to help in some way. Such a complex war on the other side of the world does not offer easy solutions, and giving money or hosting a drive didn’t seem like the answer for me at this point in my life. Instead I felt compelled to stand in solidarity with Christians from these ancient lands by worshipping with them, even if it was in our safe churches in Los Angeles.

Living in such a diverse city, we are fortunate to be near churches that celebrate Mass in different rites, and I found St. Paul Assyrian Chaldean Church with a simple Google search. I invited a group of friends from School of Community (and those who had seen the documentary) to come to Sunday Mass at this church with me, and I was surprised when five people responded. I didn’t realize this desire would correspond to others as well, but I’m grateful it did.

As the Sunday at St. Paul approached, I was a little nervous because I somehow felt responsible to meet the group's expectations, considering I had invited them there. I recognized this fear and anxiety building, and I decided that the only way forward was to hand the day to God. I begged him to show me why He put the desire in my heart to visit this parish in the first place, and to make His face known among the parishioners. I wanted Him to lead us to the people we were meant to meet, if any, instead of me trying to force or feel responsible for any relationships or experiences.

Sunday came, and our small group met in the parking lot before Mass. I had given them a heads up that it was a bit longer than our usual Mass and completely in Aramaic. The liturgy was structured similarly to the Latin Rite, and certain moments in the Mass like chanting and the way they give peace (by gently cupping hands and passing that gesture down the pew) moved me. What happened after Mass made me feel embraced by Christ in how directly he answered my prayer.

The people around us could tell we weren't regulars, and they were nodding and smiling at us, and as we made our way outside, a young man named David extended his hand to me and said "Hello, welcome! What brings you here?" Immediately David embraced our group and wanted to know who we were and if we wanted to join him in the parish hall (we did) and he brought over food to share and sat with us for over an hour. David was an incredible source of information on the conflict throughout the Middle East, and knew so much about the history of Christians and the variety of ethnic and religious groups across the region. He was more than happy to answer our questions and explain the roots of the conflict and the suffering of the Christians. His family is originally from Iraq, but I believe he was born in the US.

And none of this was my doing! All I did was first surrender, and then follow. I think we all learned so much, and everyone seemed very happy and satisfied to be there. Many other parishioners came over to our table while David was speaking with us and introduced themselves and asked about us - I was able to share with them the original reason for wanting to come and worship with them, and they said it meant a lot. Which meant a lot to me.