Words of Faith

Humbled by promises kept

March 25, 2014 

Are you good about keeping the promises you make? What about you promises made when you were 15 or 16 or 20? Have you kept even some of those promises?

Many of us make rash promises in our youth, sure that we will be faithful to them and give of ourselves and stay as committed as we are idealistic.

Last month, I met two remarkable men who live into commitments in powerful ways.

The village of Al Qosh (there are variant spellings) in Iraq is the home of Nahum the prophet. Look it up in your Bible. It is right at the beginning of the book. There is an asterisk in mine, which leads to the statement, “no one knows where Al Qosh is.” This is because this area has been so closed to the West that even biblical scholars forgot the place, but it has been there all along. As our group of seven stood looking down from the hills, we thought of the prophet Nahum standing in this same place, looking over the plains of Nineveh, as he received his challenging word from God.

In Al Qosh during a recent visit to the Middle East, we visited the remains of the Jewish synagogue in the village. In the period after the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, following the horrors of World War II, many Jews left Arab and Muslim countries. Some chose to leave, desiring to move to a Jewish homeland. Others were forced to leave, partly as a response to the forced Palestinian exodus after partition. But whether they chose or were forced, the Jewish community in Iraq essentially ceased to exist. This reality, sometimes joyful often sad, occurred all over the Middle East after 1948.

The synagogue at Al Qosh was abandoned, yet in that synagogue is a tomb, believed to be the tomb of Nahum.

We met with a Christian man there whose father promised the last of the Jewish people to leave that he would care for the tomb, and he did, for 60 years. Now that the father has died, the son cares for the tomb, and his young children accompany him, knowing that this task will someday be theirs.

This man faithfully fulfills a promise his father made.

We also visited Amadiya, a former Jewish village (in ancient times). People have lived in that village for 5,000 years. It was, for much of its history, accessible only via a long, steep stairway through a well-protected gate, so was not often the victim of hostile takeovers. It was at one point a Chaldean astronomy/astrology center, and some believe the magi came from here. For many years, Christian, Jew and Muslim lived together peacefully there. Most of the folks there are Assyrian or Kurdish, and now, like most of Iraq, mostly Muslim.

We arrived just at the end of Friday services, and the village teemed with men leaving the place of worship out the front, and women leaving out the back.

We visited a tomb there. It is unclear who is buried there – the language difference became a barrier to our understanding – but seems to be an important person from the Jewish tradition. This tomb, at the bottom of a crevasse in a large garden, has been tended for the past 60 years by a Muslim man. He is 80 now, and has built a concrete structure to preserve the site, put a roof over the structure and visits daily. He ties bright pieces of cloth in the trees that surround it, as is the Muslim tradition. His son will take over tending the tomb when he dies.

He spoke of being a young man in the village, with friends from all religious traditions, and how he misses them still. He keeps his promise, honoring the faith and traditions of his friends, though he hasn’t seen them in six decades, and they have no way of knowing what he does.

I am humbled by the faithfulness of these two men to promises made.

These two men have become symbols of hope for me of honor and reverence for the peaceful past, praying and working for a similar future.

The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, near the intersection of Hwy 160 and Gold Hill Road. Contact her at jsizoo@gracewired.org.

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