News: Iraq, U.S. work on bridging spiritual gap
Story by Spc. Karen Sampson
BAGHDAD – In Iraq, religious minorities are not always viewed favorably. Sensitivity to the religious needs of the Iraqi people works as a key link in communication. The Universal Pen Pal Project uses faith as a universal language that builds common ground between cultures.
Lt. Col. Charles Reynolds, United States Forces – Iraq and a chaplain for the U.S. Army since 1989, recently met with Iraqi politician Yonadam Kanna, Christian member of the Iraqi parliament, to discuss the progress of the project.
This spiritual connection between the two countries’ Christian communities changes everyday perspectives, said Kanna, also Council of Representatives, Chairman of the Labor and Social Affairs Committee.
“This project connects the two communities,” he said.
The Universal Pen Pal Project of the Fellowship of Baptist Educators is an organization sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
“The pen pal project is a way for Iraqi Christians to communicate with U.S. Christians, as well as work on their English language skills,” said Reynolds.
The group is recruiting students in the United States to be pen pals with same-aged students in other countries, especially nations where missionary activity is restricted, said Kellie Ziesemer, administrator of the Universal Pen Pal program. Christian students have the opportunity to be international missionaries without leaving home.
“We have been hoping to recruit students from other countries to participate in the program and expand globally, so we are thrilled to have the interest of the students in Iraq,” said Ziesemer.
The pen pals communicate via e-mail, social networking and traditional postal service, said Reynolds.
“It is one thing to hear and read in the news media about Iraqi Christians being persecuted,” said Reynolds. “It is something else when you know that person. It changes when they are part of your daily life.”
A faith community is starting to build and bridge the spiritual gap, as well as raise consciousness in the American public about the well-being of Christian Iraqis, their daily lives, and their culture.