Peace Shawl Warms Iraqi Hearts

By: Dr. Olivia Masih White

Elda N., a pastor’s wife in Baghdad, Iraq, shared the pain and challenges resulting from war that mothers have faced in the past twelve years. It is a pain they may have to face again in the near future. With tears rolling down her cheeks and a gentle quivering voice she told us that the children, innocent and ignorant of the political situation, are questioning their parents as to why people hate them, why they are being singled out and if this will ever end. As a mother I can tell you, she said, it is very hard to explain this war to the children. In 1991 her two-year old daughter was shaking, trembling and jumping up and down as bombs were exploding. She would cry and shake with fear. It was difficult to calm her down. “I do not want that to happen again,” she said. This was true of most of the children who are very much affected with this upcoming war. They are not doing well in school; they are fed up with the war and fear of war for the past 12 years. They want peace. Some say why should we study; we will all die anyway. This war is breaking up the family structure; the children are looking for strength and answers, but their parents feel helpless. They keep praying and hope others will join them in prayers for peace in the world.

This story was told to the team of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches during their recent visit to Baghdad on February 18-21, 2003. The purpose of the team visit was to affirm the solidarity of the worldwide Reformed family with the people of Iraq.  The team included General Secretary Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, from Ghana, Africa; Rev. Dr. Margaretha Hendriks from Ambon, Indonesia; Rev. John Paarlberg, Minister for Social Witness of the Reformed Church of America; and Dr. Olivia Masih White, representing the United Church of Christ, USA.

As I was getting ready to leave for Iraq, the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Vermont contacted me after hearing about my anticipated trip. The women in that church started a new ministry of care for members of their church and community. They were knitting “prayer shawls” for friends and fellow church members in need. Recently, as the fear of war in Iraq was dominating the news, several of them came to realize that the Prayer Shawl Ministry has a message for peace in the world. They, as mothers and sisters, understood the pain and struggle of our sisters in Iraq. They wanted to reach out and touch some of these sisters like Elda N. in Baghdad. Their hope was that eventually, they would invite more knitters to create “Prayer Shawls for Peace” and send them to whatever destination their prayers led them. As they knitted, they started praying for those in the Middle East and around the globe. They prayed for safety, security and justice for people. I was asked to carry one of their “Peace Shawls” to Iraq as a gift of friendship and as a symbol of solidarity.

I carried that shawl to Baghdad feeling humbled and honored.  Wednesday, February 19, 2003, we were invited to join the women’s meeting of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Each Wednesday evening from 5:00-6:30 PM some 200-300 women gather in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church for prayer, Bible study and singing. Greeting them on behalf of WARC and all the sisters in the USA, I shared the story of the Peace Shawl Ministry. I read the prayer used by the sisters in the US when they knitted the shawl. I told them that each stitch represents the sisters in America and each row of yarn in that shawl represents their prayers and the bond of friendship.  The women were very touched by this symbolic gesture of the Peace Shawl. They thanked me and all the sisters that were connected with them through the yarn in the peace shawl. They promised to have this shawl displayed each Wednesday when they gather and to remember that even sisters in United States are praying for them and their safety. These sisters in the US warmed their hearts symbolically with a peace blanket while they were shivering with pain. Let us all join the sisters in the US by reaching out to wipe the tears of our sisters in Iraq and sisters around the world. They are crying, they are suffering, and they are living with uncertainty. They need our prayers.

Dr. Olivia Masih White, Vice-President of WARC, Moderator of Partnership of Women and Men, Member of United Church of Christ, USA

This article was written for World Alliance of Reformed Churches newsletter called "Update".
Information about WARC can be obtained by visiting their web-site:


Pictured: Far left: Rev. Dr. Margaretha Hendricks of Ambon, Indonesia

Center: Dr. Olivia Masih White - Dallas, Texas - WARC Vice-President


The shawl was knitted by Janice Clements of 

First Congregational Church - Burlington, Vermont

She says: "I felt compelled to pray for peace... beginning with our own hearts."


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