Glenn Oviatt, Intern
In a first floor classroom at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, thirty Iraqis and Americans sit in three small groups, discussing the story of Abraham and Issac.
A young father who fled Iraq because of threats against his family lounges in a chair, scanning a bilingual Bible as the passages are read in Arabic. In another small group, a woman wearing a black hijab–the traditional Muslim head scarf–explains the differences between the Qur’anic and Biblical accounts of Abraham to her teenage children.
Chris McElwee, Pastor of Local Impact at Wheaton Bible Church, leads one of the small groups, describing how Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac relates to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
One Sunday each month, this Bible study brings Americans and Iraqi refugees together to discuss and share their differing faiths. The idea for the Bible study began last fall when several members of Wheaton Bible Church befriended Iraqi refugees through World Relief DuPage. Although Muslim, some of the refugees were open to attending church services with their Christian friends.
McElwee said the study is a valuable opportunity for the Iraqis and volunteers to connect with each other over food and fellowship.
“There’s a real relational depth here,” McElwee says. “They do like the idea of coming to church, learning, and discussing the Bible.”
Last year, Karen Jealouse and her husband became close friends with an Iraqi family as friendship partners with World Relief. Jealouse, who is the Director of Education Services at World Relief DuPage and Aurora collaborated with McElwee, Wheaton Bible Church staff, and other volunteers to begin the Bible study.
“We decided that once per month we would do something that would provide some fellowship, provide a chance to meet people who speak English and then look at the Bible to see what it says about creation,” Jealouse said.
In addition to the small group readings is a short clip from the Arabic version of “God’s Story” that parallels the verses studied and emphasizes redemptive threads in the Bible leading from Genesis to Jesus. Even if the members of the Bible study never put their faith in Christ, McElwee hopes the study will deepen the relationships between the Americans and Iraqis.
By deciding to volunteer through World Relief, McElwee says that church members can live out God’s mission right here in their own community.
“The church has an incredible opportunity to reach the world that is living on our doorstep,” McElwee says. “This is exactly the mission that God has called us to do.”
When the class ends, some people linger to eat and talk more about Abraham’s sacrifice while others finish previous conversations about work and politics. Soon, the mothers and children leave–many with their friends from the church. Both Iraqis and Americans shake hands and say goodbye.
“As-Salamu Alaykum,” they say to each other. “Peace be upon you.”