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When Mission is Chicken-feed!

When we think of the work of the Church in Iraq, our minds turn first, in all probability, to the base at St George’s in Baghdad, and the fantastic work it does with the disadvantaged as they try to rebuild their lives in the city following the US led invasion. But the work is not confined to the city, and the problems are not confined to the 2003 invasion. Much more recently, huge areas of Iraq have been devastated by ISIS as they sought to build their so-called Caliphate, and Anglicans are among those working to restore sustainable normality in areas such as the Nineveh Plains.

Under the auspices of an NGO called Stand With Iraqi Christians (SWIC) which was established in cooperation with St George’s and the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, attempts are being made to establish what former bishop Michael Lewis has described as a ‘ministry of presence.’ SWIC was formed in 2015 under the leadership of an Episcopalian priest from Radnor Pennsylvania, Rev Chris Bishop and has so far raised more than $300,000 to fund projects in the region. Former archdeacon Bill Schwarz is a Board member.

SWIC’s stated aim is a commitment to the long-term and sustainable building of a new more secure, prosperous and tolerant country for Iraq’s extraordinarily diverse peoples. Sinan Hanna, the administrator at St George’s is also part of the SWIC team. He has a particular concern for the area of Qeracosh, part of the Nineveh Plains. Before August 2014 when ISIS attacked the area there was Christian population of around 60,000. Many people fled, or were killed, and today the Christian population is reckoned at around 25,000 in the same area, which is still a substantial number. Qeraqosh was liberated in 2017 and has become a focus for SWIC’s work. 61% of its funding has come from individual donations.

Sinan speaks enthusiastically about the Family Farm Initiative (FFI), he says,

Before ISIS, Qeracosh was known as chicken city because of its huge number of family run chicken farms.

During the ISIS period they were left to become derelict.

This is a picture of a huge derelict and abandoned chicken shed

Now we are helping them to start up again, and it is great to see the buildings return to life, and new hope for the future return to the people

The same shed filled with free range chickens being overseen by a happy farmer

SWIC provides start-up grants for sheep and chicken farmers. Some 25 chicken farms are now restored. The NGO also provides small business grants and is involved in educational projects.

Bishop Michael was impressed with Chris Bishop’s approach from the beginning. He says that both he and Bill found Chris’s approach refreshing. He was not someone who “knew best” from afar, but rather someone prepared to listen and to be a true partner. He has described this as

a rare and beautiful thing

The city of Erbil is in the same region, and as the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan has a large population of ex-pats. It is the ambition of the church to have a presence there. The President has granted land for an ex-pat church, but the exact site is yet to be determined. On a recent visit to supporters in the USA Fr Faiz and Sinan were able to speak about their hopes, but also to point to the rapid depopulation of indigenous Christians. It is hoped that by providing a sustainable economic future, they will have confidence to return.



24th July 2023