Amid hardships and uncertainties caused by the pandemic, and despite lockdowns and physical separations, we join the worldwide Body of Christ in celebrating Emmanuel, our God who is with us. In this Advent season, leaders from around the world will offer a Scripture meditation and share about Christmas customs in their homelands. We hope their devotionals and stories will encourage you as we celebrate the Lord’s first coming and anticipate His return.
This week, Ara Badalian in Iraq shares a message of hope from Isaiah. He reminds us of God’s good promises, all of which find their yes in Jesus Christ.
Established in 1958, the Republic of Iraq was ruled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party until the US-led invasion in 2003. Although US combat troops withdrew in 2011, the Iraqi insurgency persisted and joined forces with fighters from neighboring Syria. In 2014, one of the groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), seized significant territory in northern and western Iraq, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Although Iraq declared victory over ISIS in 2017, ongoing civil unrest, government corruption, and unemployment continue to threaten Iraq’s 38 million people (64% Shia Muslim, 31% Sunni Muslim, and 1% Christian).
Ara is pursuing a PhD in Theology through Asia Graduate School of Theology in Malaysia. His research focuses on Christian-Muslim dialogue in Iraqi history. While working on his dissertation, Ara also serves as Senior Pastor of the National Evangelical Baptist Church of Baghdad in Iraq and Visiting Lecturer at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (a client school of the Vital SustainAbility Initiative) in Beirut, Lebanon.
In 2015, Ara’s church received a grant from ScholarLeaders to help care for 600 families that had been displaced from northern Iraq by ISIS. In addition to meeting immediate needs for food and clothing, the church expanded its kindergarten, a key outreach ministry to refugee families in the city. Bible Study Magazine highlighted Ara’s ministry in Baghdad in a 2016 feature. Check out Ara’s 2015 InSights Perspective, A Wounded Memory: The Church in Iraq Today. Ara and his wife Nora have a young daughter, Aylin.
Ara shares the following meditation and prayer requests:
I would like to share with you something from the Word of God that highlights our vision for 2021.
“But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” – Isaiah 44:1-3
As you know, we are facing great challenges related to the political situation in Iraq. The hegemony and rampant corruption of the post-Saddam regime have led to deteriorating administrative and financial conditions. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many lives. Iraqi youth have been demonstrating since last November, seeking change and a better future.
Amid all that the country is going through, Christians find comfort and encouragement in the Word of God. We can relate to the situation of God’s people in the past.
Because of their disobedience to the Lord, God’s people at that time were going into exile (Isa. 43:27). Isaiah addresses the people with the voice of God, saying that God will allow them to face suffering and humiliation (Isa. 42: 24-25), until the desecration of the Temple (Isa. 43:28).
Nevertheless, God affirms that He has chosen His people and describes them as “my servant” (Isa. 44:1). God is still their maker and the One who helps them. Amid all that the people are suffering, the Lord says, “Fear not “ (Isa. 44.2).
The Lord is able to give water in due season and send rain upon arid land (Isa. 44:3). Likewise, He is the One who pours His Holy Spirit upon the people’s offspring to bless them (Isa. 44:4).
I ask you to join us in prayer, so that we may leave this situation of exile and move into the blessings of Jesus Christ.
This year, churches are limiting Christmas celebrations, since gatherings may spread the coronavirus. Nevertheless, Iraqi families, especially Christians, will prepare some famous Iraqi foods to enjoy together, such as biryani with Iraqi flavors and masgouf (grilled carp) for lunch, and kleicha (Iraqi date cookies) for dessert.
Please pray for:
1. The stability of the security situation and preparations for next June’s elections.
2. Protection for families from this pandemic.
3. My ability to continue progressing in my dissertation, and balance ministry and family responsibilities.
4. Blessings upon my wife Noora and our daughter Aylin.