Hope in Exile: Rooftop Prayer

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“Every evening at sundown we go on the roof and we pray.”

When I heard this, I was sitting with Anees and Shatha in their tiny room. They had told me about leaving their city, about losing two factories, about how their two daughters had immigrated to Canada.

Yet every evening at sundown, they paused. They went on the roof to pray. The sincere faith humbled me. Here was a couple who had lost everything that our world sees as important. They no longer had jobs or houses. Security in retirement? Who has security when all the banks are ransacked and billions taken by the enemy? Home renovations or equity? Impossible when your home has been taken.

But their response was not one of bitterness or anger. Rather, they were grateful to be alive, to have a roof over their heads, to have each other. And so every evening at sundown, they went on the roof to pray.

As I asked permission to leave, Shatha took me by the arm. “Come with me,” she said urgently. “Come to the rooftop! We’re praying right now!”

We walked single file on the narrow balcony and turned into the hallway. She led me past a communal kitchen and bathrooms, onto the rooftop. There, a group of 15 women were gathered in a circle. In the middle of the circle, a small table held a prayer-book, a rosary, and a glow in the dark statue of the Theotokos – Mary, the God-bearer. Many were in black, a symbol of mourning. The women were chanting a prayer in Syriac, a prayer of protection and hope. I knelt with them in a holy moment, fully humbled in the company of women who had lost so much, yet understood the power of prayer to give and sustain life.

And here’s the thing: That’s what ISIS can never take away. They can take away factories and churches; they can take away orchards and farms; they can split up families and cause untold pain. But they cannot take away prayer. In the big story of life, they have lost and they are scrambling. Because in the big story, factories and retirement security mean nothing – and prayer means everything.

Note: This is why I grow tired of the rhetoric that says “All the Christians have left Iraq.” Because not only have they not left, but their faith sustains them in ways that I have not yet experienced. They know “the power of His Resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings,”* in ways we in the West, with all of our trappings and security blankets, can’t begin to understand.

*Philippians 3:10 KJV

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