A leg of our journey to encourage IME workers in the Middle East took us to the city of Erbil, the provincial capital of Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq, about 50 miles from the ISIS-held city of Mosul.
While sitting at the breakfast table in our hotel dining room one morning, three young men came in and took a table near us. We were the first and only table occupied, so we had the only usual basket of Middle Eastern pita bread. One of the young men approached us and asked “may we have bread?” (it struck me as a question about more than just physical bread. The disciples informed Jesus that there was only five loaves of bread and two fish to serve 5,000. Jesus replied: “You give them something to eat.”)
A conversation between our two tables ensued. “Where are you from?” “What are you doing here?” and so on. We acknowledged that we were Americans, visiting friends and encouraging churches in the region. And what about them? It turned out they were students from nearby Iran, in Erbil to take the test required for admission to graduate school. They hailed from Urmia, an Iranian city bordering five nations and the ancient home of Zoraster.
Our leader, conversant in Arabic, joined us at our table and we continued the conversation with our new-found friends. It turned out they were ethnically Azerbajani – the people group to which our leader’s adopted daughter belonged (could this be just coincidence?).
The Iranian young men anxiously volunteered to host us if we ever had opportunity to visit their homeland. We exchanged email addresses with a couple of them, and asked if we could pray with them about the exam on the following day. They readily agreed, and the six of us bowed our heads together in an Iraqi dining room to ask God to give them success in their exams. The next morning as they hurried out the door to the exam, they again said, “please pray for us!” Returning that afternoon, they reported feeling particularly confident about their exam experience.