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Iraqi Christian Relief Council is proud to partner with Philos Project in bringing the Fast of Nineveh to the Western church.

Iraqi Christian Relief Council is sharing the voices of six believers taking part in the Fast of Nineveh, also known as Baoota d’ Ninevahey (Rogation of the Ninevites), February 6-9. Iraqi Christian Relief Council has chosen a theme for each day’s blog. Today’s theme is commitment.

Discover the spiritual journey of these very different individuals fasting for the Assyrian people and victims of ISIS throughout Iraq and the Middle East.

Wednesday, February 8, Food

1. Savina Dawood

Savina Dawood is the co-founder of Etuti, a journalist, vice chairman at IYDU, part of the Executive Committee of ChaldoAssyrian Students & Youth Union and Assyrian Cultural Club, and GISHRU. She was born and raised in Erbil, Iraq and currently studies her Masters in Human Rights in Erlangen, Germany. Her favorite part of the Fast of Nineveh is when her family would gather around her father and he would recall the story of the prophet Jonah and the whale.

Etuti Leaders during a project at Shlama IDP camp in Ankawa demonstrating a "communications skills" game for the Internally Displaced Youth in October 2016

Etuti Leaders during a project at Shlama IDP camp in Ankawa demonstrating a “communications skills” game for the Internally Displaced Youth in October 2016

Day 3: Commitment is a combination of will, faith, respect, and dedication. It is the will to complete a mission, the faith in God and in ourselves to achieve the vision, then the respect to fulfill the task or the promise through time and efforts dedicated. 

It is very difficult to stay committed once one of the main four factors is lost, however commitment becomes a big part, if not the biggest part, of our life when it is dedicated from our heart to a good deed for those in need.

I have been active in our community for the past 14 years in social, humanitarian, political, cultural, and educational work, and I am truly blessed and proud to have gathered some of the most committed youth in the Homeland and diaspora who now lead Etuti a step forward everyday!

I would like to conclude my blogging for the Fast of Nineveh with Proverbs (16:3): “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Kindest appreciations to ICRC for creating such a platform to share our stories, messages, and ideas.

May our Fast and Prayers be accepted, Amen.

“The ultimate meaning of the fast is that we choose God instead of anything else in the world.” Father Gewargis Sulaiman

The last mass of the Fast of Jonah at St. George's Church in Chicago

The last mass of the Fast of Jonah at St. George’s Church in Chicago

2. Father Gewargis Sulaiman

Father Gewargis Sulaiman is the parish priest of St. George Cathedral in Chicago. He was born and raised as an Assyrian Christian in Baghdad, Iraq and spent his youth in both Duhok and Baghdad.

Day 3: Fasting is always considered a spiritual action. It is not something that I do on my own alone, especially in a fast like the Fast of Nineveh, which is intended to be done as a community. When people partake in the Fast of Nineveh, they feel obligated to fast until the last minute because of the sense of belonging one feels to this community of believers who started 2,900 years ago. What you are doing is living out a belief in Christ that our ancestors committed to.

Everyone fasts for something. We fast sometimes to ask God to help us restore something lost in our lives, or to be a better person. It is called ba uta, which means a request in Assyrian. What this means is that when you fast for three days, you can make a special request to God just as the Ninevites asked God to not overturn their city.

Some requests are personal, but this year and the past few years, we have asked people to fast for their brothers and sisters in Iraq. Our people are living in camps in the homeland, and living displaced as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. We fast for these persecuted Assyrians and it motivates us to stay committed to complete our fast. There is always the aspect of belief that when you start something you have to finish it.

Father Gewargis prepared communion for the mass this evening

Father Gewargis prepared communion for the mass this evening

Everyone who is Assyrian has connections to these persecuted Christians; they are literally our family members. You know, Assyrians all came from Iraq, Syria, and Iran. I have a huge family myself of about 110 cousins. Some of us are in America and Australia, but most are in Iraq. That’s the same with all Assyrians, we all have a lot of family back home. So, this fast is personal. We are literally fasting for the survival of our families back home. As Assyrians, we are tied to our home, and we always believe that even if there is only one Assyrian left in Iraq or Mesopotamia, that one person would still deserve our attention and prayers.

Tomorrow will be thanksgiving, and the end of the Fast of Nineveh. It is the day that our Assyrian ancestors realized God would not destroy their city. We will break our fasts and eat normal foods again. It is a day that carries a lot of meaning where we can confirm that God is close to us and we can always come to God. The ultimate meaning of the fast is that we choose God instead of anything else in the world. As Ninevites believed, let’s fast and maybe God will save us from being perished. It isn’t certain, they thought, we don’t know what God will do, but we feel we should stay close to God. The lessons they have passed on to us through fasting can give Assyrians hope that we can always continue no matter how difficult life is. God will protect us and always be with us.

Ewelina records evidence of crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (photo credit: Kanar Bassa)

Ewelina records evidence of crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (photo credit: Kanar Bassa)

3. Ewelina U. Ochab

Ewelina U. Ochab is a Human Rights Advocate, Legal Researcher, and PhD Candidate, Roman-Catholic, living in the UK. She is fasting in solidarity with the persecuted Church in the Middle East.

“If your gift is serving, devote yourself to serving others. If it is teaching, devote yourself to teaching others.” Rom 12:7

Day 3: As with fasting, commitment is the key to whatever we do. Whether it is sports, studying, or work, only by committing ourselves can we achieve greatness. Committing to God is no different, however it is more difficult as this commitment must be visible in every aspect of our lives.

I believe that one way of committing to God is serving those in need. In times when people are being killed, tortured, raped, enslaved — because of their faith — we have a moral obligation to help them, including to speak out on their behalf and pursue a positive change. This cannot be achieved without committing ourselves to serve these people. Doing it once or twice is not enough.

During my trips to the Middle East, many of the refugees and the IDPs I met told me that they have been visited by many NGOs. The NGOs come to visit them, bring them some essentials, take some photographs, but then they disappear, and they never hear from them ever again. One cannot build anything on one-time assistance. One cannot bring a positive change this way. Commitment is elementary.

Over the last two years, I have been researching the situation in the Middle East, the atrocities committed by ISIS, and I have been writing and advocating on behalf of the persecuted. However, the situation of the persecuted Church in the Middle East is still not improving. Hence, today, on the third day of the Fast of Jonah, I plead my commitment to advocate on behalf of the persecuted Church in the Middle East until there is a positive change in the lives of these Christians.

“What a testimony of commitment that the Assyrian Christians have for us today, they literally walk out of the pages of the Bible and bear living witness that by fasting and praying we can commit our lives, our work, and our dreams to the Lord, affecting generations to come.”-Katherine Hanna

Katherine started Day 3 of the Fast of Nineveh reading the Book of Jonah

Katherine started Day 3 of the Fast of Nineveh reading the Book of Jonah

4. Katherine Hanna

Katherine Hanna is a wife to an Egyptian Christian and mother to three amazing children in Minnesota. She is a nurse by profession, artist at heart and follower of Jesus.

Day 3: The third and final day of the Fast of Nineveh was focused on commitment. Certainly life is full of decisions, and each decision requires a different level of commitment. Deciding what I’ll make for dinner takes very little commitment most days, choosing to participate in the Nineveh Fast took more commitment, and picking a career takes an even higher level of commitment. How might we measure the commitment we need? I think one way we can measure how much commitment we need is to evaluate how long it will impact our future. For example, choosing a flavor of ice cream really only affects your future for a short period of time, because the ice cream will be eaten quickly, but choosing a spouse and having children will impact the rest of your life.

When the people of Nineveh turned from their wickedness and sought God’s blessing and favor, they made a decision to fast that required the commitment of a few days, but the commitment to turn from their wickedness itself would take a great deal more commitment because it would impact the world for generations to come. The Ninevites alive today in what we know as the Assyrian Christians of Iraq and Syria, bear witness to the level of commitment their ancestors made to follow the Lord God Almighty. What a testimony of commitment that the Assyrian Christians have for us today, they literally walk out of the pages of the Bible and bear living witness that by fasting and praying, we can commit our lives, our work, and our dreams to the Lord affecting generations to come.

On the flip side, about a hundred years after Jonah preached repentance to Nineveh, many fell back into their wicked ways and God sent a second prophet Nahum to Nineveh. This time God did not spare the empire from destruction. May we learn from them to keep prayer and fasting always with us so we might be able to change the world we live in and the generations to come. Personally, this fast has allowed me to ponder how prayer, resources like food, and commitment might have deeper roots in my life, and how I might include more fasting into my decision making and my private petitions to the Lord. Next year I plan to include my children in the Nineveh Fast more intimately and make this an annual event as a family.

NPU soldiers, a force composed of Assyrian Christians, now protect the Nineveh Plain after ISIS

NPU soldiers, a force composed of Assyrian Christians, now protect the Nineveh Plain after ISIS

5. Nerary Yousif

Nerary Yousif is an Assyrian Christian activist who has worked for Assyrian communities in Chicago, D.C, and in Iraq. He works for the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, and currently lives in Chicago. His goal is to finish his studies in history and biblical archaeology.

Day 3: As the days of fasting have come to an end, it is a moment for us to reflect on how we can change our ways. How to better our lives and help our neighbors and the poor. Since childhood, B’woot Ninwayeh (The Repentance of the Ninevites) has been apart of my life as it comes from the Assyrian people’s history dating back centuries. I never really understood the meaning, but now I understand God’s mercy, and I can appreciate the grace of God in sparing the people of Nineveh. The Assyrian people have been blessed and cursed at the same time; through the fires of war, persecution, and continuous genocides, we have somehow managed to keep our heritage, culture, and Christian faith. I call this the Will of God, or a miracle.

“The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.” –Jesus, Matthew 12:41

Today, we see the Assyrians standing in the face of this evil radical ideology known as ISIS, with the cross in one hand and the Bible in the other. To many, this sounds like a contradiction. Let us remember, God has used many warriors to fight just wars against evil. Men like Gideon, David, etc. Today, we see the Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU) stand in the heart of Nineveh, and defend our homeland. May God hear our prayers, and may 2017 bring blessings to the Assyrian people, and all persecuted Christians around the world. There will be a day, where every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Christ is the Lord. That day is getting closer, we must prepare ourselves for the “great day of the Lord”

“Sometimes, like Jonah, we try to reject Gods plan for us, but we have to remember that He loves us so much and only has the best plans for us.”-Mary Anton

Mary Anton in a Children's Ministry Program based on Matthew 13

Mary Anton in a Children’s Ministry Program based on Matthew 13

6. Mary Anton

Mary Anton was born in Baghdad in 1994, however soon after her family fled to Canada, the country they now call home. Mary is a York University student majoring Health Studies in Toronto. She currently serves in Chaldean Catholic Church and is part of the executive team of a non-for-profit organization – the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union (ACSSU).

Day 3: Commitment, as defined in the dictionary, is the state of quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. Thinking of the word commitment in a Christian sense, the first thing that comes to mind is committing my life to the Lord. I surrendered my life to Christ in the summer of 2011, since then I have had my ups and downs. God never failed me, but I sure did fail Him. However, His love is so great that no matter how many times I fail He is ready to run to me, hug me, and call me His daughter. Allowing myself to have full commitment to God was the best decision I have ever made in my life. When we are able to commit ourselves to God, He begins to do great things in our lives.

The two passages the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) and 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 both speak of growth. They say that God will be the one who gives the increase. We just have to allow our hearts to be open for Him and to have complete trust in Him. Reflecting on these past three days of the Fast of Nineveh, I can’t help but think that if we commit ourselves to the Lord and allow Him to work in us, He can and WILL do great things. Sometimes, like Jonah, we try to reject God’s plan for us, but we have to remember that He loves us so much and only has the best plans for us. Jesus, I love you! Thank you for all you have done for me, you are my Lord, my Savior, my Redeemer and I can’t imagine my life without you.

Reshare this blog on social media with the hashtag #FastOfNineveh. Donate to support persecuted Assyrians in Iraq and the Middle East at VictimsOfISIS.org.

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