Madeleine Van Haute
Alex McKenna, a junior at Franciscan University of Steubenville, always has something big going on around campus, whether it is tapping trees for maple syrup, planning for next year’s new student orientation or running for president of student government. Now his ambition and curiosity has led him to an opportunity in Iraq that he cannot ignore.
Back in April, Daniel Kempton, vice president of academic affairs, accompanied the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, university president, to Iraq. They were guests of Bashar Mattie Warda, archbishop of Erbil, during Pope Francis’ visit. During their visit, Pivonka and company visited historical sites and spoke with the Christian families there.
Upon returning to campus, Kempton shared his experiences from the visit with all of his classes, including his global terrorism class, a class that McKenna is currently taking.
After hearing about Kempton’s experience in Iraq, McKenna knew that he wanted to become involved.
“One thing that Dr. Kempton said that really struck me is that these people have been beaten down in every way and feel like nobody outside their own group cares about them. But having people come and minister to them makes a huge impact,” said McKenna.
From there, Kempton helped McKenna set up an interview with Archbishop Warda and Hala Warda, who works for the archbishop, to discuss different internship opportunities.
According to McKenna, the interview lasted only 20 minutes and Archbishop Warda was ecstatic about McKenna’s desire to come and minister in Iraq. He quickly offered McKenna a teaching position at the school there, Mar Qardakh.
McKenna said that when he proposed this idea to his parents, his mother was “shockingly supportive,” but his father was more hesitant. With reassurance from Kempton and Pivonka, McKenna’s parents got on board quickly and supported their son in taking this opportunity.
After receiving approval from his parents and professors, McKenna was able to start planning his trip. He is leaving April 28 and will be finishing out his junior year there before teaching for the summer.
While in Iraq, McKenna will be teaching Catholic social teaching to high school students ages 14-16. He is currently gathering resources for a lesson plan and will send the curriculum he decides to use to Warda for approval.
McKenna will be staying in his own apartment in an apartment complex with other teachers from the school in a small 10-mile square Christian ghetto. He said that “the lack of freedom” is going to be one of his bigger struggles during his stay.
Although he will be bound to the small Christian ghetto and won’t have much of an opportunity to explore, McKenna is excited for the opportunity to travel to a different country and learn how to teach.
McKenna said, “I don’t know what their English competency is, and we’re on completely different cultural spectrums. It will be fun learning how to teach and spread the principals of Catholic social teaching in a completely new culture to me.”
During his trip, McKenna is also excited to learn Arabic and more about the culture in Iraq.
McKenna is hoping that this trip will be the stepping stone to getting more students involved in ministering to Iraqi Christians. He also hopes that his work in Iraq will touch his students’ lives and make a difference in the area he is in.
McKenna is asking for prayers for himself, his students and all those he encounters.
“There are so many things I don’t know, that I don’t even know the questions to ask to understand the things that I don’t know that are going to be different there,” he said. “I have a very base level of understanding and I will be jumping out into the waves.”