Authors: Emine Bala, Ibrahim Fatih Sharistani

Foundation and History

The Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Erbil was established in 2006 following a financial donation by wealthy Christians on behalf of church followers. In 2014, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Endowment officially recognized and registered the church.[1] The priest, Abona Sabri (known as “Basta,” which means “parson” in Arabic), looks after all the works of the church, supported by his wife and brother. However, no government agency pays them for their services. Their personal expenses are covered in a budget collected from the followers.[2]  

The church is one of 11 registered evangelical Christian and other Protestant churches[3] that adhere only to what is explicitly stated in the Bible. For instance, their followers do not have a specific day or times for fasting or prayers, because they claim that it is not stated in the Bible. They point to Charles R. Swindoll’s book, Simple Faith[4], as an example of living true to the Bible without following institutionalized rulebooks. Additionally, the church has an employee for everyday cleaning who is paid from the church budget.[5]

© Photo by Ibrahim Fatih Sharistani


[2] Interviews with Abona Sabri (the church priest) on November 26, 2020 and September 26, 2021.

[3] See

[4] Swindoll, Charles R., Simple Faith (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2003).

[5] Interview with Abona Sabri on November 26, 2020.

Location and Building

The Good Shepherd Baptist Church is located in Shoresh Street beside Marqardagh Church, which is Catholic.

Front view of the building photo by Ibrahim Fatih Sharistani

Good Shepherd consists of two buildings of two floors each. One of these buildings is devoted to prayers and sermons.

View of the church entrance photo by Ibrahim Fatih Sharistani

On the ground floor is a cafeteria, and the second floor has a hall with chairs for the attendees and a pulpit for the priest. The other building is occupied by a library and two classrooms. The library is quite small, with a selection of around 100 religious books in Arabic and Kurdish. It also has around 100 colorful children’s books of simplified stories from the Bible. Each of the two classrooms can hold 20 students; Christianity is taught there to a total of 30 registered students.[1]

Good Shepherd is quite small compared to other churches in Erbil, with a capacity of approximately 130 people for assembly. There is a small garden in front of the building.

Library of the church photo by Ibrahim Fatih Sharistani

The design does not look like that of other churches in the area, which feature architecture of the decorative arts; on the contrary, the Good Shepherd is quite plain and lacks flashy ornamentation. The design is typical of evangelical free churches.

[1] Ibid.

Prayer and Worship

The church is available for prayers every day because evangelical Christians do not specify any day or time for prayers. They fast and pray when they are in need, especially when they are sick or have problems.[1]

Weekly Meeting

Every Tuesday, the Good Shepherd’s congregation joins in a prayer led by Abona Sabri between 6 pm and 8 pm. The topics chosen by the priest usually focus on the meaning of the Bible, as well as the spiritual and religious life of the people. Around 130 people participate in Tuesday prayers, with males and females attending in equal numbers.

Sunday services are also held from 6 pm to 8 pm. At the beginning of the service, the church band plays songs and the congregation sings along. The singing is accompanied by many gestures, especially hand movements and clapping. Most songs consist of verses taken directly from the AVDDV Bible (New Van Dyck Arabic Bible). During the parson’s speech, which can last 45 to 90 minutes, the children are led to a room in the adjacent building where they are taught Bible stories in a child-friendly way.

Wednesdays are reserved for women, and Fridays are for men to visit the church and read the Bible. On those days, the verses of the Bible are interpreted by the priest between 6 pm and 8 pm.[2]

Annual Meeting

Biblical holidays such as the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, Pentecost and Ascension Day are celebrated annually.[3]

[1] Interview with Abona Sabri on November 26, 2020.

[2] Interviews with Abona Sabri on September 26, 2020 and November 26, 2020.

[3] Interview with Abona Sabri on September 26, 2021.

Community and Group Activity

The church has two classrooms that are supervised by Abona Sabri and his wife, who instruct the children and adults on Christianity.

They also serve the poor of the church by providing them food, clothes and sometimes financial support. Moreover, people visit the priest to consult on societal or religious issues whenever he is available.

Public Relations

In October 2018, the church created an official Facebook page on which seminars, activities and live prayers are shared.[1] As of November 29, 2020, there were 566 followers of the page. According to an update from November 22, 2021, 798 users follow the page, which amounts to a rise of about 41%. Normally for this kind of Christian group, there are no connections to other Christian churches in Erbil.[2] Abona Sabri reported that there have been attempts to contact Catholic churches in the city, but with no reaction.[3]


[2] Interview with Abona Sabri on November 26, 2020.

[3] Interview with Abona Sabri on September 26, 2021.