I often share the ministry of Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the REpublic of Georgia. I publish his annual letter which has come to me, sharing his travels and experiences of this year.
He writes to his friends …
It has been a rather hectic year for me. In the course of this year I continued teaching at Ilia State University, preaching and celebrating liturgy at Peace Cathedral, and invested a lot of energy in finishing up a new meaning based translation of the New Testament into the modern Georgian language. We had book launch for the new translation twice once at Frankfurt Book Fair, where Georgia was a guest of honour and once at Writers’ House in Tbilisi. Both events marked the completion of ten years of hard work and creative struggle. Although this is not all. There were some other interesting developments during this year.
The other day I wrote a letter to my nephew whom I had not seen for several months and asked him where did he get lost. This is what we say in Georgia when we want to say that we missed the person.
„I did not get lost anywhere“, he wrote back. His name is Giga.
„Yes, you did!“, I insisted.
„Where have you been looking for me?“ wrote Giga in our e-mail exchange.
„I have been looking for you…all over!“ I said jokingly and started naming all those places where I had been during the year in a chronological order. Much to my own amazement I realized that, despite being busy with the traslation project and teachuing at the universty, I have travelled to a lot of places.
These are the places I visited:
Berlin, Germany, Kiev, Ukraine, Rovno, Ukraine, Lviv, Ukraine, Istanbul, Turkey, Iznik,Turkey, Chicago,Ill. USA, Fort Worth,TX USA Dallas,TX USA, Waco,TX USA, Gilford, UK, Oxford, UK, London, UK, Karlsruhe, Germany, Frankfurt, Germany, Heidelberg, Germany, Hamburg, Germany, Frankfurt, Germany (Book Fair),Teheran, Iran,Najaf, Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq, Babylon, Iraq, Al-Kifl, Iraq, Kufa, Iraq, Karbala, Iraq,Teheran, Iran,Erzrum, Turkey, Batman, Turkey, Hasankeyf, Turkey,Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq, Lalish, Kurdistan, Iraq, Sheihan, Kurdistan, Iraq, Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq, Alkosh, Kurdistan, Iraq,Urfa (former Edesa), Turkey, Diarbakyr, Turkey, Bingol – Turkey,Berlin-Bad Sarow – Germany. I started and finished in Berlin.
Only after naming all those places that I started to realize why Ala, my wife, has recently being calling me „მაწანწალა“ (matsantsala, ‘vagabond’) bishop. Perhaps I am vagabond bishop indeed. Perhaps this is my real calling.
I Paid homage to the birth place of Abraham (Ismael’s and Isaak’s father), I also visited the house where Goethe was born, the tombs of Prophet Ezekiel, Prophet Nahum, Imam Ali, Imam Hussain. I attended a great number of conferences, gave keynote speeches. Along with Ala, Alexander (my step son), Bishop Ilia and Natela, his wife, I spent some unforgettable days with a facinating group people in Turkey – the Mevlevi Sufi leader, Sheikha Nur and her dervishes. I have also visited a room from where John Kennedy was shot to death in the USA…I preached at the Broadway Baptist Church in the USA and got known with absolutely marvelous ministers and laity of the church… I suppose I should say that this year made me much reacher than I used to be. Not because I have saved some money but because I acquired new friends, renewed friendship with old friends and gained most extraordinary experiences. Among the newly acquired friends there are a Rabbi from Tokyo (whenever he says where he is coming from, everybody loughs), a Buddhist monk from Cambodia, an Orthodox monk from Ukraine, a Yezidi monk and a priest from Iraq, a awyer from Iraq, a film maker and a producer from Iran, a Muslim scholars from Iran, bangladesh, a Sufi Sheikh from France, Baptist ministers Dr Dan Freemyer and Dr Ryon Price from USA. I was honored to forge friendship with Ahmadi Muslims in Georgia, UK and Germany. I was hugely honoured to meet personally with Ahmadi Caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad twice! Ala and I were honoured to host Rabbi Reuven Firestone in Tbilisi and than meet his daughter and her friend a couple of months later.
I travelled by plane, by boat, by car, by foot. I slept in most luxurious and comfortable places and also in ruins or very modest houses. One night I even slept in a chemist’s shop (on my way from Najaf to Karbala). We spent one night, in a Dohuk hotel, without being able sleep because of muskitos…
One might say that I am a very fortunate man. I think I am, but there is this bloody ‘but’. While encoutering literally thousands or even millions of people (the Arbaeen pilriomge had brought more than 20 million poeple), I have also seen a lot of human suffering which does not give me a minute to relax. Those pictures which I keep on the screen of my mind are tormenting and forcing me to do something about them….
I do not want to spoil your Christmas mood but I think I need to share with you some of my experiences. I visited this year twice first for the Arbaeen and than for the meeting with Yezidi leaders. In the Iraqi city of Sheehan, I was asked by the spiritual leaders of Yezidi community to be their ambassador to the world which knows very little if anything about suffering of these people. Of course, it is a great privilege to be a voice for the voiceless and I take this responsibility very seriously. But I cannot do much without some help from my friends and colleagues like you. This is why I am writing this to you. Don’t even think that I have joined a group of well organized people who produce their Christmas letters on a regular bases. I just need to tell you a sad story.
The Yezidis represent one of the world’s most persecuted ethno-religious minority. The wounds of their most recent genocide in 2014 are still breeding.
The massacre of Yezidi people in Sinjar mountains by the ISIS devastated thousands of people. Four years after the massacre Yezidi refugees are still leaving in tents where in winter it is brutally cold and in summer unbearably hot.
In 2008 when Russians invaded Georgia and 70 000 people were internally displaced, the Georgian authorities, with the help of international community, built thousands of houses for the IDPs within a couple of month. But Yezidis have IDPs have been left without dissent shelters for four years!
I visited one of the IDPs camps along with my friends and I saw conditions these people live in. It is heart breaking! I cannot even try to describe it.
What is even more devastating is the fate of those women and girls who have been captured and enslaved by the ISIS. More than 3000 of them are still kept in captivity, being sold and re-sold by their slave masters. The slave owners are demanding from 10 to 12 thousand USD ransom for each woman. Some of the women are left without living relatives. They all were brutally killed in 2014 and therefore there are no relatives to raise funds to ransom them.
At the residence of Baba Sheikh, the spiritual leader of Yezidi people we met a young woman who had just been ransomed from captivity. A lady, whom she called a spiritual sister, had raised 12 000 USD to ransom her. Bishop Ilia of East Georgia who was accompanying me on the trip to Iraq, asked the lady what she thought about her future. “I have no future!” said the lady without even thinking and without any emotion on her face.
The irony is that the slave owners keep the slave women in Mosul which is under control of Iraqi authorities. Nobody seems to be willing to do anything to set those women free. This is why I am appealing each and every one who will be reading this letter. Can we get organized in order to raise awareness about this issue? Can we be brothers and sisters to those enslaved girls and women who are left without relatives to care for them? Can we find a way to convince people in the position of power and authority to do something for Yezidi people?
I should also also say something positive. After having visited the IDP camp I was deeply depressed. I did not even know how to digest everything I had seen and heard. As our car was leaving the boundaries of the camp I noticed that on one of the last tents in the camp there was a painting: a heart with an arrow going through it. I found it rather moving. People are able to love each other even in such terrible circumstances. Love seems to be invincible even ths milieu of hopelessness. Love must be the answer to many issues we are struggling with.