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Continuing our series on ministry among Kurds in the UK and Kurdistan, our correspondent looks at the impact of the Gospel on one man, and considers its wider implications.
Life is becoming saturated with poignant moments. Standing with people at the crossroads of their lives, inviting them to choose a different path from the one they’re on. It is a significant thing to be with people when they are asked to consider where they’re headed. Somehow with our Kurdish friends it seems more poignant as their paths are full of pain, honour, sacrifice, loyalty and death. We met a Kurd the other week who was about to give his life to join what he would claim are ‘freedom fighters’ in eastern Turkey; the British and US governments consider the Kurds to be terrorists in this part of the world.
Whilst he was originally from Iran he would never be able to return there, as he was a marked man for his speaking out for the plight of the Kurds. Having spent some time in the UK he could no longer justify being here whilst his countrymen were out fighting for the liberation of Kurdistan. He had a month to go before going to the hardships and dangers of the Qandil Mountains (pictured above, courtesy of Getty Images) for a cause that would most likely ask him his life.
So what do you say?
It was the first time I had met this man. He had come as a guest of another Kurdish friend for a BBQ being hosted by our Kurdish team. There was an uneasiness about him. His emotions lay very close to the surface, his eyes wide with thoughts about life and death and the suffering of the Kurds. My immediate reaction was to somehow reach into his heart and apply the hope of Jesus… to somehow speak with great clarity that there is one who both understands the injustices that have overcome his homeland and has done something to remedy the pain. But how to express such truths in a way that he might understand?
I asked him what he was thinking about as he seemed lost in his own thoughts. His answer surprised me as he mentioned that he had never seen such people before. He was referring to my brothers and sisters… their kindness, laughter and hospitality had struck a chord with him.
It was later in the garden with Andy that he began to share his plans to go and fight. He said in a resigned tone that he didn’t want to fight but he knew no other way. This was our opportunity. We posed the question about what true freedom looked like. If it were possible to liberate the Kurds from their oppressors… what next? The record of northern Iraq, the corruption and abuses of power by Kurds themselves goes to show that what people need is freedom from their own hearts.
As we spoke about Jesus our friend mentioned that he knew about Jesus. He had a Kurdish New Testament and had read it, even to the point that his father had rebuked him with the words ‘khafer’ down the phone. He spoke as if he had left Islam a long time ago and had come to respect Jesus. We told him that there was another army to join, another fight, another type of weapon, another cause… and that is the gospel.
It was moving to invite him to our cause… capturing my imagination that Andy and I were subversively recruiting people for Jesus’ work. It was wonderfully captivating to think that Andy and I are in the same army and in much the same way as this friend of our was prepared to give up the comforts of the UK we in the very least should be prepared to do the same.
“We are committed to seeing the liberation of the Kurds. We have given our lives to their liberation. It’s just a different way to the one you are choosing. Come and join us.”
After much discussion we ended by playing him an MP3 gospel tract in his own language. As I pressed play on my mobile his eyes became fixed. He was thrilled to hear his language being used… but then it was the words that began to capture him. At one of the pauses he mentioned with a seriousness that matched his decision to go to the Qandil Mountains that now he had become a Christian.
Andy and I looked at each other not knowing whether to believe what we were hearing. As the message continued to play my heart and thoughts went to Jesus the great liberator. I wondered at the significance of this moment if not for this Kurdish friend then for me, standing at another crossroad I chose again to go Jesus’ way.