The beginning is always filled with hope and fraught with hazard. Whether it’s a new baby or a new business, this unlikely pair always comes along for the ride. The early years of Servant Group (1992-1995) are a great example of this. As mentioned before, the ministry began as a way to address the needs of incoming refugees from Iraqi Kurdistan. Thousands had made their way to Turkey following their escape from Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror. Hundreds of those ended up in Nashville. Below is a snapshot of the varied ways SGI staff and friends worked to provide hope, both for those newly arrived and those having never left.


These two couples were the beginning of Servant Group’s ministry. Douglas and Marilyn Layton (left) and Jim and Nancy Cassell (right) moved out into the Kurdish communities of Nashville and beyond with grace and sacrifice, two qualities that still mark the work done by SGI staff and volunteers.


This family farm outside of Nashville was SGI’s first gathering place for the Kurds and those serving them. Dancing, eating, learning and loving were always in ample supply.


A ministry to women and children living in this abandoned Iraqi prison began in 1994 and included, among other things, a dental clinic and new housing.

The first of a series of SGI-produced books pointing Kurds to their Biblical heritage was published in 1993. In years to come, two other bi-lingual versions would become available.

Stephen and Douglas participated in lectures on democracy and Kurdish heritage to crowds large and small in Kurdistan in these early years. Other Belmont Church staff and layman served the Christian and medical communities, as well.









Douglas and Yousif stand on the banks of the Tigris River. Yousif has been a wonderful brother and great partner from the beginning, in church, school and relief projects.




Katherine was a strong, tender hand to the women and children at Nizarkeh Prison.





Buddy was one of many staff and volunteers who served our new friends. He was definitely the best-dressed!

SGI’s founder/first director prays over the opening of the teahouse, a place of connection for Kurds and the Christian community of Nashville.


Dozens of Kurdish men would gather each weekend to play dominoes, drink tea and relax.

Sometimes Things Get Complicated

The first of the newly-formatted newsletters put out to SGI friends. Among other things, it detailed what was previously mentioned about new beginnings; they are fraught with hazards. At one of the lectures in Kurdistan, “Douglas and the team were ushered away by armed guards and plain-clothes policemen…” Later, the Nashville teahouse would be effectively closed only months after opening, due to a similar incident. A civil war between Kurdish factions would break out in Iraqi Kurdistan during these years and all as the shadow of Saddam Hussein continued to loom large.





Yes, hope and hazard were part and parcel of the Servant Group experience those years, in the U.S. and in Iraq. And though the hazards weren’t welcomed, they were expected. “You will have trouble in this world,” Jesus said. “But be encouraged, I have conquered the world.” So we moved ahead with confidence, with the hope that God would guide and provide. Next month you will see what forms that took in the ensuing years, from collapsed buildings to raised hands and so much more.

Have you been a part of the Servant Group story? Share your stories with us of your time with SGI in the past 25 years! We’d love to hear from you! Email us at!