My Visit to Iraq: In the Heart of Sadness, A Glimmer of Hope
How does one describe what actually defies description? We ourselves find it hard to process what we have just seen and heard. My good and dear friend of many years, Sami Dagher, who hails from Lebanon, along with the leadership of Samaritan's Purse invited me to come and minister in Kurdistan and Iraq. My first reaction was to say, “Sami, August is my month to write.” I should have known better. Sami’s reaction was “My brother, you will write with greater inspiration after you come here.” He was right. What an inspiration to be with people who have suffered so much and yet rise up above the ashes of their homes and dreams to try to rebuild their lives. Many have experienced losses of loved ones that cannot be replaced by just rebuilding a house.
Being in the city of Qaraqosh, which is the ancient city of Baghdeda in Nineveh, was a memory we will never forget. Homes utterly shattered, every window in fragments, and the rubble that littered every neighborhood spoke of the ruthlessness with which ISIS ravaged the place during their two and a half year stay. Bullet marks on every wall and the looming danger of explosives buried here told the tale of a violence that is hellish. Why? To what end? Well, one of the reasons was this was a Christian town and their goal is to obliterate Christianity from all over the world—one town and one city at a time. A few families are gradually returning and going through the rubble to see what is left for them to rebuild. Some will never return because they are sure it will happen again.
The Kurdish people welcome the Americans because they also long for democracy. They are fed up with what the Islamists have done to them for decades. Saddam himself slaughtered tens of thousands, and the Kurds will never forget it. They wish so much for America to come to their aid and help them find their autonomy. They don't wish to be caught in the sectarian animosity that reigns. They are convinced with the departure of the American troops that Iraq is now remotely controlled by Iran and they fear what the future holds. This part of the world has been a massive graveyard for centuries and the minorities are the most devastated. The Kurds, Yazidis, and Christians provide the spoils for the violent, and they are aplenty in various sects of the Islamists.
There is so much to say, but I shall resist. I will just say this. Little by little, the Christians will be chased out of their homeland and Islam will dominate for years to come. Many young Muslims have lost heart in seeing how their faith is being used as a political weapon to destroy. Many are becoming atheists.
To speak in such a setting was a privilege. I myself have traveled far and wide and frankly, would love to slow down. I can't keep this pace. I am so glad that our team can help meet a need here. I spoke at two public meetings. Both events were packed. One woman leaned forward and whispered in my ear: “Thank you for giving us two nights of heaven.” Another young man said, “I am a Muslim, but tonight I surrendered my heart to Jesus.” The testimonies we heard were mind-stirring. One man, who was a killer of people but has come to Christ now, drove us through checkpoints so that we could get to our destinations safely. His story will take a few pages to tell. The young American families working here with the hurting is overwhelming to see.
I traveled with my colleagues, Thomas Janzen and Sanj Kalra. We were accompanied by our chief of security and also by a board member, Chris Blattner. Yes, more and more we have to travel with security. The death threats and other threats abound. It is a sad world. I could give more detail here too, but I will hold back. Just know that there are those who seek to hurt us one way or the other. Some of the harshest and most cruel threats have come our way. It saddens but will never deter. I will keep going no matter what the attacks. It touches my heart that my six-year-old grandson prays that God would protect his papa from mean people. He asks why they would want to hurt me. I believe God will answer my little grandson’s prayer. Our Lord himself was attacked in every way. Can we expect any less? I have claimed Psalm 71 and Psalm 91 over my life.
Frankly dear friends, none of this would be possible without you. We do not back away from danger zones. We are wise when we go, but we know why we are there. It is your support in giving and praying that gets us to these places. Thank you for that generous heart that you share with us. We need it more than ever. Please do your best even as we will give our best.
Please keep praying for us. I will write again with further stories. I just wanted to send this brief update to thank you for your prayers. Many lives were touched by this trip. One man said, “This place will never be the same again.” I pray it is even half true. Thank you again for your love and prayers. Thank you for your support. We are on our way to another Islamic country. But not as chaotic, thankfully. I shall write from there as well.