October 1, 2015
One thing I always loved about traveling was that I could stand on the very ground where ancient civilizations once lived. Being at the very spot where historical figures or history was made always brought a sense of realism of the event or person to me. Feeling the soil beneath my boots, inhaling the unique smells of local environment, feeling the harsh sun beating down on me and feeling the weather-worn walls of ancient ruins brought stories from 1,000 years ago to life.
When I was working at the U.S. consulate in Basra and later at the embassy in Baghdad, I was constantly reminded of the fact that the area of the Middle East known today as Iraq was once called Mesopotamia and the cradle of civilization. Living on the bank of the Tigris River brought a sense of realism to the many Bible stories I had read and heard in my youth. The Tower of Babel and the ancient city of Babylon are located just south of Baghdad. The Garden of Eden was supposedly located just north of Basra where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers combine into the Shat al Arab River.
One very memorable experience for me was when I took a U.S. diplomat to meet members of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Mandean Church in Basrah. It was incredible to me, given the present day reality of Iraq, that so many Christians live and have lived for thousands of years in this ancient land. The Chaldean Church, as I understand it, were ethnic Assyrians who lived in a land known as Assyria, an area stretching from northern Iraq into Turkey, Iran and Syria from 25 BC to the 7th century AD.
The Chaldean Church in Basrah stands behind fortified walls but the holy cross can be seen from the street. The grounds and the sanctuary are beautiful although access to them can be a challenge due to numerous checkpoints. Its members have coexisted among Muslims for hundreds of years, and only recently have they become targeted for extinction by the brutal fanatics of ISIS.
The Mandeans and the small Mandean Church in Basrah were utterly amazing. This small but incredibly historic group of believers traces their roots back 400 years before Christ and considers John the Baptist their prophet. Baptism is their main ritual and all the members wear the distinctive white linen robes and head coverings associated with this historic biblical figure. I enjoyed witnessing the ritual of baptism in the small church which has a clear pool of water as its centerpiece and from where all activity is centered.
Unfortunately, with the onslaught of ISIS throughout Iraq, these Christians are, like so many around the world today, being actively targeted and persecuted. Thousands are being killed each year. Others are forced into slavery, girls and women are raped and left for dead, entire families are scattered about never to see one another again through sheer survival, their homes and possessions taken away.
Recently, 27 Chaldeans traveled from Iraq to the United States. No, I shouldn’t say traveled, that sounds too much like a vacation. They escaped persecution and death in their homeland in Iraq, somehow made their way to Mexico, eventually crossed the border and now are seeking asylum while detained in an ICE facility near San Diego. Their journey from death has been met with typical bureaucracy by the U.S. government and what seems as continued persecution here on U.S. soil as well. Interestingly, since the first of the year, 4,200 Muslims from Iraq have been warmly welcomed and allowed access to our country but only 727 Christians have been granted entry. These 27 Christians, many of whom have family in the San Diego, may not be granted entry and expediently expelled from the U.S.
It is ironic to me that we can expedite the deportation of Christians, who are fleeing genocide in Iraq, but we allow so many others non-Christians into this country at a rate of 5 to 1. Furthermore, it appears that the deportation process seems to work very well for these 27 souls but not as efficiently for the thousands of known criminals who have entered into the U.S. and committed heinous crimes in our communities. Lastly, I find it curious that we, a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values, are so reluctant to extend the hand of open immigration to our fellow Christians. I seem to recall that Pope Francis spoke of this exact topic to our most senior government leaders during his recent visit to America.
Viper One Six – Out.
Published October 1, 2015 Gate House Media | Leavenworth Times