Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
DOHUK, Kurdistan, Iraq (BP) -- A new day dawned in Iraqi Kurdistan this fall as Governor Tamar Ramadhan gave Baptists two acres of land valued at $2 million for the Grace Baptist Cultural Center -- a multi-phase project including a medical clinic, school, athletic facility, church building and seminary in the town of Simele.
Gurgis Shlaymun, deputy governor of Kurdistan's Regional Government in Dohuk, stood in for the governor, joining other local officials and a team from Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., along with Iraqi, Jordanian and Brazilian Baptists and other evangelicals for an hour-long ceremony at an engraved marble cornerstone marking the new property.
Shlaymun, an Assyrian Christian first elected deputy governor in the Muslim majority government in 2005, delivered remarks at a community center near the undeveloped property in Simele in Iraqi Kurdistan's Duhok Province.
Simele, on the main road of an agricultural plain about 100 miles from the Turkish border, has a tragic history for Assyrian Christians. In 1800, its Christian inhabitants were forced from their homes and massacred by local militants. In 1933, after Assyrians and Chaldeans again found refuge and settled in the fertile valley, an estimated 3,000 were slaughtered following the withdrawal of British troops when Iraq gained independence in 1930.
At the gathering of about 100 people under a banner bearing a colorful map of Iraq's regions marked with a cross and open hands at the spot of the new facilities in Simele, Shlaymun extended a special greeting to those from afar.
"The people of Dohuk love their guests," Shlaymun said. "Today, you are the children of Iraq."
Noting the involvement of Baptist groups from various nations, Shlaymun praised each for serving the people of the province by taking interest in "each family, in each sickness" so future generations will be well served. "This is our duty to introduce the land for this project, this is our duty to service this project," he said.
Shlaymun recognized Iraqi Baptist pastor Farouk Hammo, one of the project's leaders who also shares a personal history with Gov. Ramadhan. "Our purpose and your purpose," Shlaymun said, "is to make a good generation."
A deacon in the Assyrian Church of the East, Shlaymun spoke openly about the spiritual dimension of the center.
"Jesus said your light will be shined through the people to see your works and glorify your Father in the Heaven," Shlaymun said. "That is what Jesus Christ said in the Bible. And this Jesus did not speak specifically about man, but for all the world. This will be for all."