FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — A typo turned divine appointment has one local minister testing her faith and hoping shell return to tell the story.
Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church on Hwy. 160 West. Shes been there five years and ministers to about 400 members. Shes been on mission trips to South America. Shes delivered sermons on listening to God and obeying.
In the middle of last year, she received an email from her presbytery asking if shed like to partner with a church in Iraq.
She asked her church. One member had served in the military there and voted yes. Enough others joined to back the decision.
By the time the presbytery emailed that theyd meant Lebanon and not Iraq, it was too late.
I said, We meant Iraq, because the people who said yes had very specific reasons for that, Sizoo said.
The presbytery had to find an opportunity. Sizoo soon was exchanging email with a congregation in Baghdad, one she cant name or say much about for security reasons.
A decision was made, and finalized Christmas Eve, for her to visit with those fellow believers.
In a few days together, you can go a lot further in building relationships than you can in years of emails, Sizoo said.
Christianity isnt always seen in Iraq a country known for its Muslim population in as friendly terms as it is here, she said. Sizoo said shell be honored to meet believers for whom being a Christian costs them.
Our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq are really invisible, Sizoo said.
Her anticipation of the trip isnt to say shes overly looking forward to it. This was never really on my bucket list, she said. This feels more like call than desire.
The plane leaves Saturday.
Is it safe?
Ron Popp buys food Thursdays, gives it away Fridays.
Popp leads a team at Grace Presbyterian whose mission field sits across the street; the team volunteers to serve free Friday meals at the Community Café, hosted by Fort Mills Lake Wylie Lutheran Church.
Popp imagines the experience isnt much like what Sizoo will see on the other side of the world.
I dont think Id go, he said. But she seems to be called there.
Judy Forrest heads vacation Bible school at Grace and is working with PCUSA personnel in Iraq to familiarize children here and there with life in each others countries. Videos will be made. A collection for Iraq will be part of VBS this year.
With all the possible partnerships, Forrest said she was elated to hear Sizoo would go to Iraq. Im so glad that shes going, because I was worried that God was going to make me go, Forrest said.
Sizoo said shes only seen Iraq through reports during wartime, too, so she understands the most common reaction among members. As of last week, she hadnt formally addressed the trip with the entire congregation.
Members made prayer bookmarks Sunday for Iraqis. Certainly the response has been concern for me, Sizoo said.
A small group including Sizoo and her husband, retired minister Sam Roberson, will spend five days in Istanbul, Turkey, and six in Cairo, Egypt. Then Roberson will visit grandchildren in Ireland.
Sizoo will spend eight days in Iraq. She isnt going to Baghdad; shell meet with PCUSA personnel and host church leaders in another, relatively safer, area of the country.
Shes learned what to wear and when. Shell be particular about covering knees and shoulders.
Sizoo doesnt use clergy shirts, but ministers there do, so she bought one. As best she knows, shell be the only American in her group.
Im not super anxious, Sizoo said. I just really believe this is what Im supposed to be doing. Thats all I know to do.
Is it worth it?
Trusting God, Sizoo said, doesnt mean bad things cant happen. Bad things happen all the time, she said. She thinks about the common perception of Iraqis here Muslim, perhaps terrorist, war-ravaged. She wonders what the perception of Americans there is.
Sizoo wants to be part of putting faces to people in groups, of breaking down an intimidating barrier and bringing home with her a plan for how more church members can keep the connection open.
Im beyond grateful for this opportunity, she said. Its beyond my wildest dreams.