[Image description: photograph of a red marbled plastic wristband on a table. The words "IRAQI CHRISTIANS" can be seen on the outside of the wristband.]

Banding Together

I never gave a great deal of thought to the idiom “banding together.” However, as I sit at my desk and look at a trio of reddish swirled plastic wristbands, I become more reflective.

These simple bands represent a great deal more. Of course, I turn to the Web to launch an inquiry. It turns out this is both literally and figuratively appropriate. The definitions for “banding together” include: to form a group to achieve a goal, unite, give voice, provide a welcome place, and support. Words to ponder in the shadow of evil like ISIS: group, goal, unite, voice, welcome, support. Two small crosses are etched in the plastic, as part of the bracelet design. This reminds me of our focus on Christ as the light in the world. Now the bracelets represent a world of good as I ponder them.

I started as Executive Director of Stand with Iraqi Christians (SWIC) on February 1. In that time I’ve met many wonderful people, each providing support to launch this newly minted non-profit organization in a way that can be scaled up. Our vision includes growing in relationship with persecuted Christians in Iraq. This means listening to their stories as we jointly investigate ways we can seek and serve Christ in all persons. Exciting, but also draining because of international regulations, U.S. laws, Iraqi policies, and language barriers.

But the Spirit is at work here. Each step of the way, there are little miracles. The right person shows up at just the right time. A solution surfaces when I may not have even been aware there is an issue, and comradery means when I am weary someone else steps in to take on a challenge. I often don’t even need to ask. Spontaneous generosity should be added in the lengthy definition for “banding together.”

[Image description: photograph of a red marbled plastic wristband on a table. The words "IRAQI CHRISTIANS" can be seen on the outside of the wristband.]My blessings include hearing the stories of those who support SWIC. Two separate times, two states apart, fixed income individuals donated $100 after one of Fr. Chris’ screenings of the film Where is our Place? Money is precious under those circumstances and yet they shared. The same was true when a child donated a $1 bill. It is not about the money (though of course donations are important)—it is about the act of giving. One amazing volunteer, Pat Beard from St. Thomas Whitemarsh (PA), took a couple hundred plastic wristbands and has been giving them out as a token of appreciation to anyone making any donation. In just a few short weeks she raised over $1,000! It is humbling to have so many give.

The story is not complete without mentioning that there is now a growing community of individuals who are banded together, with the plastic bands clearly visible on their wrists. Each band is a reminder to think beyond our own lives and communities, to connect with people in another part of the world who are sharing a deep faith that is not destroyed by ISIS violence. So now I sit and twirl one of the bracelets on my arm, and use it as a reminder to pray. The words that come to mind are from a song I heard recently, by Carrie Newcomer. She shares, “The shadows of this world will say, there’s no hope why try anyway? But every kindness large or slight, shifts the balance toward the light.” (“Lean in Toward the Light,” The Beautiful Not Yet, Airtime Studios, 2016)

Christ is the light. My ever-growing definition for banding together now includes the word kindness. Or as the bible says in a passage from Ephesians (Chapter 4) where I am reminded:

“…be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Where the money goes: Building Hope in Sulaymaniyah (video)

SWIC had designated $11,500 of the total $19,000 collection we had brought with us to building caravan housing for 8 Christian families living in tents in Sulaymaniyah, a city about a 150 kilometers south of Erbil. These families had fled Mosul more than a year before, and were living in conditions of extreme poverty, coping with the extremes of the searing heat of summer and the bitter cold of northern Iraq. Read their story here or watch the video below.

Watch our other videos on our YouTube channel (link opens in new tab/window).

Where the money goes: Ashur’s Copy Shop Business (video)

Through your generous donations, we are able to fund small businesses like Ashur’s copy shop.

Read about Ashur’s story here, or watch the video below.

Watch some of our other videos on our YouTube channel (link opens in new tab/window).

[Image description: Ashur and two other men are walking on the sidewalk outside the store, carrying boxes of paper, pens, a laminator machine, and other office supplies. They are all smiling.]

Where the money goes: Ashur’s Copy Shop Business

Watch the video of Ashur’s story here.
[Image description: photo of Ashur, and Iraqi man. He is smiling at the camera. He has gray hair and a mustache, and is wearing a blueish-gray polo shirt.]

One of the most satisfying things Quint and I were able to do in Erbil was to help Ashur begin his own copy shop business.

Ashur was living in Baghdad with his wife and two young children, and had a government job. One day a militia showed up at his door and told him that as a Christian, he had 2 days to leave or they would kill his whole family. They fled to Erbil that night.

After spending time homeless in Erbil, Ashur and his family were found and helped by one of our partners, Hanna, and his church, Christian & Missionary Alliance Church/Erbil (CMA). Through Hanna, Stand With Iraqi Christians was able to micro-finance a new copy shop business for Ashur for just $900. These pictures follow that journey of creating hope, which ultimately created a whole new life for a family.

We drove through Ankawa, the by-now familiar Christian quarter of Erbil.

We drove to a hardware store Hanna had found, whose owner would give us a good deal on equipment and supplies for Ashur’s copy shop.

[Image description: Ashur walking along a sidewalk past different stores, on his way to the hardware store.]

We found everything we needed except the laser printer, which was in a warehouse but would be delivered the next day to Ashur’s apartment, which CMA had found for his family.

[Image description: Ashur and a young man kneel on the floor of a store, looking at a printer still in its plastic wrapping. There are shelves of books and notebooks around them.]

Of course, the necessary bargaining and haggling took place.

Until finally everything he needed was purchased, and a very happy Ashur left the store with the means to begin a new sustainable business.

[Image description: Ashur and two other men are walking on the sidewalk outside the store, carrying boxes of paper, pens, a laminator machine, and other office supplies. They are all smiling.]

We needed to make one more stop – to pick up the new desk that would allow him to professionalize the space in his very sparsely furnished apartment and properly conduct business.

[Image description: Yusuf and Ashur sit on the bed of the truck, looking at the camera. There are a few boxes of supplies and more pieces of the desk in the bed of the truck.]

Ashur’s friend Yusuf (wearing the red shirt, above) knew only a little English, and missed his calling as a comic. His wife had recently left him and he was convinced that if I posted these pictures on the internet she would see them, and fall in love with him all over again. Every time I said something to him he answered back with a huge smile, “I love you!” I’d say, “Yusuf, I love you too.” To which he invariably replied, “I love you three!” and laugh his head off. Yusuf, here’s the pics. Good luck with your wife!

[Image description: Ashur and Father Chris stand next to the bed of the truck, looking at the camera and posing for the photo. They have their arm around the other's shoulders.]

Finally, the desk and most of the copy shop material, (except the laser printer), ready to go, Ashur said goodbye to Quint and me. He promised to report on the progress of his business to Hanna who would pass it on to us. That was October 14, 2016. It is now November. Hanna told me on Skype this week that Ashur’s business is doing extremely well. He is the only copy shop in his neighborhood full of IDPs, and there is a huge demand for papers, documents, and duplications as no one can go anywhere in Iraq without proper ID and documentation. Thanks to your support, Stand With Iraqi Christians was able to help Ashur provide a new future for his family and provide a valuable and needed service for countless others.. And this is just the beginning! We hope to help micro-finance many such worthy and life-giving ventures in the future!

Watch the video of Ashur’s story here.

Meet Archdeacon Bill Schwartz in Philadelphia

Christmas in the Middle East

The Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia warmly welcomes
the Venerable Canon Bill Schwartz, Archdeacon of the Gulf
December 15-19, 2016


DioPa is honored to welcome the Venerable Canon Bill Schwartz, OBE, the Archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, during the Season of Advent 2016.

Archdeacon Schwartz will be discussing Christianity in the Middle East, past, present, and future, at various venues throughout the Diocese. He will provide firsthand testimony and perspective on the crucial and life-giving work our Anglican Communion is doing throughout the Middle East, and answer your questions.

Perhaps most importantly, Archdeacon Bill can offer thoughts and ideas about how we in DioPA might form closer bonds of friendship with DioCyp & Gulf, and walk with our sisters and brothers in that region as they experience extraordinary challenges, changes, and a sense of hope.

Meet Archdeacon Bill on:

Thur. 12/15, 6:30PM-8:00PM

St. John’s, Concord PA, The Rev. Dr. John Sorenson, (610) 459-2994

Dinner, Presentation and Q&A

Sat. 12/17, 10:00AM-12:00PM

St. David’s Church, Wayne PA, The Rev. Frank Allen, (610) 688-7947

Brunch, Presentation and Q&A

Sat. 12/17, 7:00PM-8:30PM

St. Paul’s, Chestnut Hill, PA. The Rev. Cliff Cutler, (215) 242-2055

Refreshments, Presentation and Q&A

Sun. 12/18, 10AM-12:00PM

St. Martin’s Church, Radnor PA, The Rev. Chris Bishop, (610) 688-4830

Archdeacon preaches at 10:00AM Service, Q&A to follow

Sun. 12/18, 2:00PM-4:00PM

Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, The Very Rev. Judith Sullivan, (215) 386-0234

Refreshments, Presentation and Q&A

A Brief Bio:

  • 1952: Archdeacon Bill was born in Omaha, Nebraska, USA
  • 1970-1975:  Bachelor of Arts degrees in English Literature and Philosophy from Tarkio College, Tarkio, Missouri
  • 1973-1977:  Director of the overseas study program of Tarkio College in Alexandria, Egypt
  • 1977-1981:  Administrator and Assistant Director, Institute of Middle East Studies, Skouriotissa, Cyprus
  • 1981-1989:  Director of Research (Middle East) for ‘Open Doors,’ Limassol, Cyprus
  • 1986-1999:  Limassol: Chairman of the House of Laity of the Diocesan Synod, Assistant Treasurer of the Diocese, lay member of the Provincial Synod, lay member of the Diocesan Standing Committee of the Diocese. Nicosia: Diocesan Secretary/Treasurer
  • 1993: Ordained deacon in Larnaca, Cyprus
  • 1993 (August): Ordained priest at All Hallows by the Tower
  • 1999-2007:  Rector, Canterbury Group (Saudi Arabia)
  • 2006 (February 6):  Made Canon of St Christopher’s Cathedral, Bahrain
  • 2007-2014:  Senior Chaplain, Qatar
  • 2007-present:  Provincial Treasurer
  • 2009:  Appointed as Archdeacon in the Gulf
  • 2013:  Awarded DMin at Nashotah House Seminary, USA

Archdeacon Bill is married to Edith and they have four children: Ann, Tobias, Luke, and Katherine.

The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf comprises a huge geographical area, including Cyprus, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Yemen. Churches throughout the region under the care of Bishop Michael Lewis and Archdeacon Bill Schwartz include:

Please plan to attend a stimulating evening with Archdeacon Bill to discuss the Christian Church in the Middle East– both the birthplace of Christianity, and where Christians today are facing some of the most serious challenges confronting the Church anywhere in the world.

For more information, or if your parish would like to host Archdeacon Bill, please contact The Rev. Christopher Bishop, St. Martin’s Church, Radnor, (610) 688-4830 or email standiwthiraqichristians@gmail.com.