We were blessed to have Fr. Dale Johnson with us on Sunday, May 21 to attend worship and have conversations with us. On Sunday evening Fr. Dale joined with a group for an hour-and-a-half of informal conversation at St. Paul's.
Fr. Dale Johnson, who grew up on a dairy farm near Mt. Vernon, is a priest of the Syrian Orthodox Church who has spent much of his life in the Tur Abdin (Mountain of the Servants) region of Southeast Turkey. This region is the historic home of Aramaic-speaking Christianity. Aramaic is the language Jesus used, and is still the language of worship and conversation for about a million Christians of that region, many of whom live in diaspora in Europe and Scandinavia.
In 2015 I took a trip with several other Episcopalians from the Diocese of Olympia to this region of the world in Fr. Dale's company. During that trip we met with refugees in both Turkey and Northern Iraq and helped Fr. Dale in a project called "Seeds of Hope", which eventually succeeded in helping over 200 gardens be planted in refugee communities.
Fr. Dale was in Germany last year when an attempted coup in Turkey led to the denial of his application to renew his visa. Fr. Dale then went to the Dominican Republic to stay, where he taught physics to college freshman at the University in Puerto Plata and prayed with a small group of Orthodox believers who are the remnant of a previous exodus from the Middle East.
Now Fr. Dale is in the area visiting family and renewing connections with churches and friends who have supported his ministry among refugees and displaced peoples along the long border shared by Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, where 2 million people are living in refugee camps after fleeing terror inflicted by ISIS.
Fr. Dale's contacts in Turkey are telling him that his visa renewal application is now likely to be approved, so he is hoping to return to his beloved Tur Abdin region in June.
Some of you heard about the "Seeds of Justice" project, which is focused on helping refugees document their claims to their properties and homes in the lands from which they have had to flee. Fr. Dale reports that this project continues with the help of lawyers within Turkey who are multi-lingual in Turkish and Arabic.
Fr. Dale's latest initiative is following the lead of a Syrian Orthodox deacon named George, who lives in Germany, in a project called "Project Identity." Deacon George recruited Fr. Dale to help him with this project, which addresses the need caused by the loss of personal property and effects sustained by refugees who have had to pick up and leave their homes under short notice and undergo many ordeals and trials in their flight from terror. Many refugees end up as people with no official identity; a situation that renders them very vulnerable to psychological and physical danger. Project Identity's work is to supply these refugees with identity cards. It is this work that Fr. Dale intends to pursue in his return to Turkey.
Upon his return Fr. Dale expects to reside at Mor Gabriel Monastery, which is the home of his bishop, Timotheus Samuel Aktas, Archbishop of Tur Abdin of the Syrian Orthodox Church. From this base of operations near the borders of Turkey with Iraq and Syria, he will visit refugee camps along that border as he has done for many years.
Those who wish to follow Fr. Dale Johnson's ministry directly may do so on his Facebook page or the Seeds of Hope Facebook page.