Image: Father Raeed
The sound of honking cars disturbs the silence in the prayer room. Layered on top of the aggravated street noise—distant explosions. Iraqi Monk Raeed looks out the window. Cars line up to leave the city. What he has feared for weeks has now come true. The IS army is approaching. Raeed calmly grabs his stuff. “Whatever happens, Jesus will be with me.”
Raeed is how you might picture a monk. His gestures are calm and silence seems to be his natural habitat. 15 years ago he chose a life dedicated to prayer in a small monastery community. Him, four other monks and Jesus. That was it.
But Raeed’s silent life was severely shaken shortly after he followed his calling. On the way to Baghdad with one of his fellow monks disaster strikes. One moment Raeed was chatting with his friend, then, out of nowhere, a crash followed by the sound of crunching metal.
Driven over by an American tank, Raeed ends up in a coma. He is the only survivor in his car. Waking up to this reality was the hardest thing he has ever had to cope with. “I didn’t understand. I said to the Lord: ‘We are serving You, why does this happen to us?”
He didn’t receive a clear-cut answer to this question. Raeed shakes his head. “But what happened deepened my faith. It brought me back to my calling. I had promised to obey Jesus when he said ‘Whoever follows Jesus should not look back.’ So I did, together with my brothers in the monastery.”
But tragedy struck again ten years later. “IS came to our city, so we had to leave.” The monks join in the slowly moving traffic jam of people in panic. For one night they slowly move forward in uncertainty, until they reach safer Erbil. Hard times follow when they are thrown into the deep end, taking care of the many displaced people around them. Once again Raeed remembers his calling: ‘Follow Jesus no matter what’.
It is two years later now and Raeed leads evening prayer time in one of the refugee camps just outside Erbil. The monks set up their monastery in the middle of a refugee camp for Christians. It is so busy in church that the latest people who came to the porta cabin church have to stand in the doorway. They join in the calm thumbing tones of a hymn filling the twilight sky.
When the service ends the parishioners leave the church. Brother Raeed stands outside to greet them. Some parishioners stop to ask him a question or just have a little chat. Signing up for a life of prayer, Raeed had never expected this dazzling crowd would be his place of service. But he doesn’t look back. This is where Jesus has led him.
Image: Father Raeed leads Iraqi Refugee to Worship
Together with a group of nuns the brothers now provide spiritual guidance to this newly formed group of believers. ‘Monk Raeed’ even became ‘Father Raeed’ as the need for priests is high. “Alone I am weak, but God guides me and consults me in this new task. I don’t have to be anything supernatural, I just have to be here with the people in the church because God needs me to be here.”
The life of the believers in Father Raeed’s congregation has just been turned upside down and many challenges occur as people have to adjust to life in displacement. But within these shaky times, Father Raeed teaches his people to trust in the Man he has learned to depend on. “It is all about Jesus. Jesus is the core of this church, He is the Rock we build on. And whatever might happen, our Rock will never disappear. He will always be here.”
Call for Prayer
“Staying connected to God by prayer, that is what believers in Iraq should do,” says Father Raeed. And he invites Christians around the world to connect as well. “Even though I am very thankful for all the material help we get, I am most thankful that people around the world connect with God and with us in prayer for Iraq.”