Iraq: Grace to Forgive


by Peggy Gish

We were Sunni Muslim, Yezidi, and Christian. We were two CPTers and two Kurdish Iraqi companions, and had been on a trip together to learn about a community in northwest Iraq that has suffered religious persecution, poverty, and mass displacement. On our trip home, the four of us were kidnapped at gun point. We were held captive in a large sitting room in a family compound in a small village.

Our religious differences suddenly became a big deal when our guard asked each of us who we were and about the organizations of which we were a part. The questions about our religion raised an extra layer of fear in our Iraqi companions. Depending on the background of our captors, their religious identity could mean life or death.

When our guard asked me if I was a Christian, I simply said, “Yes.” But I sensed a veiled threat when he repeated the question. Then I knew I needed to say more. I wanted to be sure our guard would understand, so I asked our translator to translate my words.

“You are holding us here, and you would do us harm,” I said. “I am a Christian, and because I am, I will forgive you!” Our guard seemed taken aback at first, and then responded defensively, “No, we will not harm you! You are like my mother.”

I was startled at my own words. Mixed with my fear was also anger toward these men. I had no idea what they would do with us. I wanted to be able to forgive them, but I knew I wasn’t there yet.

We were very thankful when two days later one of our Iraqi companions and I were released unharmed. The other two were released six days later.

Since then, I have been walking on a path toward healing, which I believe includes forgiveness of all involved in the kidnapping. I want to be free of the burdens of resentment toward those who took us captive and threatened to harm us, yet allow room for a healthy anger toward injustice and abuse. I know forgiveness cannot forced but can be given in the process of facing the more troublesome feelings I carry.

Anger is still intertwined with the grief and fear I feel. Looking back, I see that the anger I felt then was a gift God gave me and has been part of the forgiving process. This anger helped me combat the feelings of helplessness encroaching on me at that time and made it possible for me to speak the truth about the harm being done. This, in turn, interrupted the guard’s threatening questions.

Now, recognizing and facing these feelings of anger keeps me honest and real about my need for healing and God’s grace.