The emigration of Emanuel

By Catherine Hoffman
This story was provided by Rev Dr Emanuel Audisho and adapted for New Times. It was first published in October 2014, and received bronze for "Best Profile Story" at the 2015 Australasian Religious Press Association awards night.

Posted in Faith

This is the story of Rev Dr Emanuel Audisho, an Assyrian follower of Jesus Christ, a bird driven from his nest, but led by God.

Emanuel’s tale begins in Iraq, where he was born to a family with a long tradition in the Nestorian Orthodox Church. For many years, Emanuel and his family lived comfortably in Iraq. People of different religions – Christians and Jews, together with Shiah and Sunni Muslims – lived side-by-side in relative peace. Even as war raged between Iraq and Iran, Iraqis of different faiths enjoyed some measure of peace, tolerance and shared prosperity.

As he grew older, Emanuel enjoyed academic success, becoming a teacher and principal of several schools. He also married and welcomed four sons into his life. In 1980, he was appointed principal of the Teacher Training Institute in Duhok, Iraq. While working, Emanuel continued to study, achieving his masters in Arabic Poetry at Mosul (Nineveh) University in 1988.

However, the clouds of war and sectarian strife were tragically closing in upon Emanuel and his family.

“Since 1980, life had increasingly been disrupted by tragic violence, killings, destruction of property and the disruption of family life had become normal in many parts of the country,” Emanuel explains.

“[In 1991,] my friends came to me and advised me to leave [Duhok] because they heard that the militia would be coming to the city, and that there would be big trouble,” says Emanuel. “I sent my wife and four children to another city. The next day my friends came and told me again to go.”

Along with two friends – one Muslim and one Christian – Emanuel left Duhok for Nineveh, which was about one hour’s drive away. After driving along the road for only a few kilometres, the trio came across a section of road barricaded by stones. Cars had been overturned in front of the barricades and machine gun bullets were flying through the air.

“My friends and I became very scared – we could not turn back, so we had to go through this deadly road,” Emanuel recalls. “I felt that I was in ‘the valley of the shadow of death,’ and I saw my life pass before my eyes like in a movie.

“I remembered my brother Noel saying, ‘Only Jesus can save your life and protect you,’ so I cried out to Jesus, and prayed with all my heart, ‘Oh, Lord Jesus, only you can save us!’ Immediately, I felt a merciful hand surrounding me, lifting me up tenderly. I felt as though I was not in the car, but in another atmosphere, and I didn't hear the shooting, even when machine guns shot all along the side of my car, from the front door all along to the back.

“I encouraged my friends, and told them that Jesus would save us.”

Emanuel had been driving the car and was the natural target of the gunfire, but it was his friends who were hit, Emanuel remained untouched by bullets. Although one of the rear tyres had been shot, Emanuel knew it was not safe to stop and continued driving, heading towards the hospital in Nineveh. Eventually, he was forced to pull over as the car would not climb a steep hill. He had to get out of the car and change the car’s tyre.

“My friends were very frightened, but God miraculously helped me change the wheel in less than one minute.

“When we reached the hospital, Nineveh was being bombed by aircraft overhead, and there were no staff or other people to help at the entrance... I carried [the friend] whose legs had been shot, up the two floors to the operating theatre.”

His other friend’s injuries were not as severe and he was able to walk himself to the nurse’s station.

When Emanuel walked back to his car, he was shocked to see the huge number of bullet holes and the pools of blood inside.

“From that time on, I realised that Jesus was my protector and saviour... I sensed joy and peace, with the presence of Jesus around me, and I gave myself anew to Him. He made me a new person, and I understood with new clarity, the call and the duty to proclaim the message of salvation wherever God wished to send me.”

Although Emanuel had grown up in the traditional Eastern Nestorian Orthodox Church, he had not known Jesus personally until this point of his life.

“Clearly this new faith was a gift from God in a time of need, but it was not just faith for the moment of crisis; [it was] the birth of eternal life in my soul,” says Emanuel. “When new life appears it is always a miracle from God, but all life also comes from a seed. God had used my brother five years before to sow the seed of faith in my heart.”

Emanuel’s brother, Noel, became a believer after migrating to Australia. He returned to Iraq specifically to share the gospel with his relatives. In 1986, Noel had visited Emanuel and spoken words that had a huge impact on his life. The two brothers were sitting in Emanuel’s study at the time, looking over his large collection of books.

“[Noel] took out the Bible, set it on my desk and said, ‘Brother, this is the book of life. If you have got this one, you don't need all the other books,” Emanuel recalls.

“These words fixed in my mind and my heart at this time, and I started to read the Bible sometimes, and to go to church from time to time, to try and understand what he had said to me... [But] I found that I did not understand what I read in the Bible until the day I came to a personal relationship with Jesus.”

Leaving his home had been distressing for Emanuel, particularly given the circumstances of his departure, but he made good use of his time in Nineveh. He studied for three years at Nineveh University, and obtained a doctorate in Arabic literature from Mosul (Nineveh) University in 1994 

Then, in 1995, Emanuel moved with his family to Baghdad, where he taught in the Teacher Training Institute for two years. However, the dark clouds pressed in again and Emanuel was led to move home once more – this time to Amman in Jordan.

The move to Jordan was full of mixed emotion. Emanuel was leaving the land of his birth with its entire rich heritage. He would also be leaving his family for a time, journeying into an unknown future. He felt like Abraham, a wandering person on the way to another place. But, like Abraham, Emanuel knew that in moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar there was the mysterious presence and leading of God.

It was in Amman that Emanuel found a spiritual home, and first felt called to be a minister of the church. But despite the joy he would find there, Emanuel’s arrival in Jordan was not a smooth one. When he first arrived in Amman, he was cold and hungry, and had nowhere to go. But God quickly provided Emanuel with food for his body and encouragement for his soul as he began to open doors of opportunity. Emanuel began studying and teaching again, eventually achieving a Masters of Biblical Studies at the Jordan Evangelical Theology Seminary.

His first call to ministry came in 1999 while he was still studying and teaching. His family had joined him, and they were members of an Iraqi refugee congregation in Amman. The pastor of the church obtained a Canadian visa, and asked Emanuel if he would lead the congregation. Emanuel was reluctant – he already felt overwhelmed by his academic responsibilities.

However, after a time of prayer and fasting, Emanuel felt that God was calling him to ministry, asking Emanuel to love and care for his sheep. He agreed to pastor the church, and was ordained as a Minister of the Free Methodist Church in 2000.

Under the leadership of Emanuel and his family, the Iraqi congregation began to grow. But, in 2003, they felt called to move homes once more – this time to Australia.

Since his arrival, Emanuel has found opportunities for ministry amongst other people newly arrived in Australia. In 2004, he founded the Assyrian/Arabic Holiness Church in Perth, Western Australia, where the congregation is largely made up of people who have emigrated from the Middle East.

After gaining an interest in the Uniting Church in 2006, Emanuel began more study and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia in 2009. In the following year, he was inducted as the Multi-Cultural Co-ordinator of the Uniting Church in Western Australia. Emanuel’s ability to speak five languages and his unique history make him ideally suited to this role.

Although he has called many different places ‘home’ during his lifetime, Emanuel believes in looking beyond places on earth as a permanent home. He feels at home wherever God calls him, feeling at peace in the moving spirit of God.

Emanuel has felt God's peace in times of risk and danger, amidst the agony of a country in suffering and turmoil. He is also acquainted with the peace that is offered by a country like Australia. But there is a higher level of peace which is not limited to place or circumstances or time – it is the gift and the grace of the living God.


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