Iraq reflection: 'the light that shines in the darkness'

 "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." (Matt. 4:16A) "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:3) As we celebrate God's breaking into the world bringing hope and light, I write from a place in the world so tangled in violence that people talk about it as there being no really good solution or way out. Each year in Iraq, it seems like the hopelessness and darkness increases. People we talk to from south and central Iraq, tell us stories of Iraqis living in fear and continual violence in the form of explosions, fighting between militias, coalition force operations, killings by police death squads, kidnappings. To this they add the stories of human suffering from structural violence, such as a broken health care system and oppressive or corrupt economic practices. Iraqis fear that the recent decrease in violence is temporary and not indicative of a substantial strengthening of society and governmental unity. People in the Kurdistan Regional Government are thankful for more security on the streets, but realize that for them this has come at the price of restricted freedom and human rights. Just as in the rest of Iraq, life is hard, with little electricity or water, with poor health care and government services. Kurdish Iraqis live in fear that terrorism will move into their region. They see the U.S. Military presence as a necessary evil. They realize that the US is here primarily for its own interests, not theirs, yet feel like that presence might protect them from Turkey and Iran. So what is the good news of Advent for the Iraqi people? How does the light break into the darkness here? Has God forgotten them, or is God entering into their world? These are questions we ask as we live among the people and walk with them in their struggles. We don't see corrupt and violent institutions or international powers dramatically turning around. What we see are some people willing to speak out when it is risky to do so, people giving themselves to help others in need or to rebuild their society. One place we see the light breaking in is where we find institutions being transformed or people who have a vision of another way of getting out of the mess we are in. These ways include revealing the truth, working for reconciliation, and using the power of love and nonviolent confrontation to stop the cycles of violence. We hold on to the faith that the power of this light of God is stronger than the darkness. Wherever people are open to God's Spirit of love and truth, God will enter their midst and work among and through them to break down the walls of hostility. We pray that we can be witnesses to the light breaking in and will find ways to be part of God's work of healing and establishing justice. Peggy is a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams - an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world. To learn more about CPT's peacemaking work, visit:

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