Rev. Chris Weichman…
Rev. Chris Weichman is no stranger to travelling across the world for mission. As pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Chris has gained extensive experience in ministry through his mission trips especially to the war-torn country of Iraq. Last October, Pastor Chris returned to Iraq for a third time.
The following is a Q & A with Pastor Chris about what sparked his dedication to mission work overseas and how those experiences translate to mission at home in Erie. Marsha MacKinnon, Webmaster for First Covenant
Can you explain when your interest in missionary work began?
“Mission and outreach have always been a part of my understanding of faith. I got involved in mission (Habitat for Humanity) before I was a Christian. It was through volunteering and mission that I first became involved in the church and became a Christian.”
Why do you feel it is important to do missionary outreach overseas?
“I think it is important to be involved cross-culturally whether it is in the church or another place. When you are exposed to people of another culture to learn to look at you own culture in a new light. For example, I have learned how “time oriented” I am. I learned this from my friends in the Middle East and the Dominican Republic who are more relationship oriented. They taught me the importance of being with people.”
How did you learn about The Outreach Foundation? What specifically attracted you to this organization?
“I learned about The Outreach Foundation in 2005 from Marilyn Borst. Marilyn was working at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA as the staff member in charge of world mission. I had just moved to Atlanta to serve as the mission pastor at North Avenue Presbyterian Church. Both churches had a connection to China, North Avenue through Chinese international students at Georgia Tech and Peachtree through their support of medical and educational work in China. We both traveled with an Outreach Foundation group to China in 2006.”
“What attracted me to The Outreach Foundation was the integrity of their leadership and their mission of connecting the church in the United States with the church in other parts of the world.”
How many tours have you made to the Middle East? Describe those previous trips.
“In 2007 I traveled to Palestine/Israel and Egypt. This trip consisted of historical tours of both areas. In Egypt we learned about the work both past and present. The Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo (ETSC) is a vital training center in the middle east training pastors and church planters.”
“In 2012 I made my first trip to Iraq. We stayed in the south of the country in the city of Basra. In Basra we were hosted by the Presbyterian church. The leader of the church at that time was elder Zuhair Fathallah. Zuhair was a plastic surgeon who taught at the medical school in Basra and practiced in the local hospital. We learned what the church was doing in mission and ministry. The church has a kindergarten (KG) with over 200 students, the vast majority are Muslim. The church also has a radio station that broadcasts Christian programs. I had the opportunity to go to the historic site of Ur, the home of Abraham.”
“In 2014 I made my second trip to Iraq this time staying in the north which is majority Kurdish. We were exploring the possibility of how the church in the United States might partner with the church in Iraq to encourage greater outreach. We visited Presbyterian mission co-workers in Duhok. Most of our time was spent in the city of Erbil. Erbil thrived as a city due to the no-fly zone enforced by the United States. The safety of the no-fly zone encouraged people to move to the city and with that followed a great deal of investment from inside and outside of Iraq. Erbil continues to be a flourishing city.”
Why did you feel compelled to go to Iraq last October?
“Several reasons. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 1:11 “For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” I wanted to see my friends from the first two trips I made. My friend Marilyn Borst who now works for The Outreach Foundation had invited me several times since 2014; it is hard to say no to Marilyn! Since my last trip in 2014 ISIS had established and lost power in Iraq. We had seen in the news and heard first hand accounts of the impact this had on the churches of Iraq. I felt it was important to return as an encouragement to church in Iraq which I have grown to love. Going to see our brothers and sisters in Christ was the right thing to do!”
Describe what life is like for the pastors you met and the churches you visited on your most recent mission trip to Iraq?
“As you can imagine life is not easy. Many Christians, particularly the young adults, have left the country for Europe, Canada, Australia or the United States. The city that has suffered the most is Mosul. Mosul is where ISIS made its last stand and was a particularly difficult place for Christians. Before ISIS Mosul was home to several hundred thousand Christians, today church leaders estimate that less than one hundred still reside in the city. The church leaders we spoke with (Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant) have all moved north to the safer Kurdish region. None of them are planning to move back. Their congregations are scattered all over the country. There is anxiety about the survival of the church in Iraq.”
What do they want us to know about being Christian in a war-torn place?
“God is still at work in Iraq. The government is open to granting permits for new churches. The Chaldean Catholic church has built a hospital in Erbil for the purpose of serving the community and encouraging young people to stay in Iraq.”
What is your most memorable take-away from this latest mission trip?
“God is at work everywhere.”
When you returned home, you delivered a sermon titled “The Power of Presence.” How did your presence there affect those pastors?
“As a pastor it is incredibly encouraging to know that people are praying for you and are willing to come so far to spend time with you. One of the first and most important things you learn in ministry is the power of presence. You don’t have to have magic words. The power of “just showing up” whether it’s in the hospital room or the church in Iraq is more important than you can imagine.”
What is the message of your experience in Iraq that you would like the members of First Covenant to consider as we ‘walk the walk’ as Christians?
“The church in Iraq is praying for you! Ministry is not dependent on money. The church in Basra that runs a kindergarten and a radio station has 32 members. We tend to think about what we don’t have rather than what do have. God has given every church what it needs for ministry no matter where you are located.”