I will pick up at the same place as I left off last week.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice."
But for the Arabic, Aramic, not Kurdish speaking Christian villagers living in Avzrk Shno, their language is one of many years ago and they have not yet heard a new voice.
The road across the mountains to the faded village was the same as last year, just full of more potholes both larger and deeper. We drove slower than last year. I was glad for my cell phone which gave me the date and year, otherwise we could be thinking that cobwebs with thick briars had grown over us, and we had been lulled into sleep. Time stood still and I don't think that they had even noticed. A kind of Sleeping Beauty without the Prince.
Abuna Sami had come from his other congregation on the other side of the mountain to meet with us. “Has anything changed this year, Abuna?” I asked. “Just less food,” was his reply. “Two families, old people went to Australia, they could not feed themselves and were accepted there. Last year we were 126 families. We are now 124. Who knows what this next year will bring.”
The irony here is that Abuna Sami lives and serves the Pesh Khabur Christian community (meaning In the Face of the Khabur River) the Khabour River being recorded in 1 Chronicles 5:26 “Tiglath-Pileser took the Reubenites the Gadites and half the tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Khabur and the River Gozan, where they are to this day.”
The community in Avzrk Shno, wearing the same dresses and plastic sandals as last year, were more pragmatic. “If we leave, who will inherit our land? We can not abandon the land. That is all we have left. The Baath regime tried to destroy us, to eradicate the memory of our existence but we are still here, and we will remain.”
My thoughts turned to the prophet Ezekiel who also sat on the banks of the Khabur River just a stone’s throw from the Mukhtar’s garden. “The sword is outside, the famine within” (7;15)
Talking about the Mukhtar, he invited us into his garden for chai. Entry meant dodging the Christmas sheep his family were busy doctoring. He looked at me as if to say “can you stomach it?” Had he wanted a reply it would have been that our village and camp streets had been swimming in blood for the past week as sheep and goats were slaughtered in the doorway, tied to the doorposts of each house in preparation for the Yezidi Eid. After all these years one never gets used to the sight or stink of blood as the animals are slaughtered. I was silent, eating the walnuts from his tree which went perfectly with the hot chai, trying to not to notice that the lamb was swinging in the breeze just next to the teapot.
We went to visit the Church, again, the Church of St Vincent, who according to the Abuna, “took care of the poor.” Hmm. The Church was colder this year, the kerosene heaters had been cleaned and were ready for Christmas Mass, but until then it was the big freeze.
There were no Christmas decorations yet, which made the place feel sad, abandoned and kind of just sagging with no air left to breathe. It was hard to imagine that the tree and baubles that they would hang on December 23rd, would bring any real life to this dying village.
So as much of Christendom rises to angels and joy, life is being sucked out of the Chaldean Christians in Avzrk and Pesh Khabur. Whilst much of the Christian world celebrates life, this village is trying to avoid the death of Christianity.
Our desire is to return to both communities prior to Easter with generous food supplies for a total of the 160 remaining families. If we have $8000 for food, we will return to help them to hold their position and land, right where Ezekiel saw the four living creatures and the glory of God. Right where the Hebrew refugees sat down and hung up their harps.
We left with heavy hearts, marvelling at the grace of this beautiful community, blessing them for their generous hospitality, but knowing that a Merry Christmas would somehow bypass them and that there was no prince on the horizon to wake this sleeping bride.