EDITORS’ NOTE: The author was among 22 Southern Baptist volunteers who worked on development projects in Iraq during June.
SINJAR, Iraq (BP)–I should have been surprised to find myself in the back of an ambulance on a rural road in Iraq, but I wasn’t. The journey didn’t even make it into the pages of my journal. As we traveled down that lonely road on a hot Iraqi night, it wasn’t surprise that invaded my thoughts as much as pure wonder and awe.
The Iraqi people had been staring war straight in the face for several months now, so it was with uncertainty that 22 Southern Baptist volunteers made the journey through the country and to the family’s home where we would be staying. What we found was a family that welcomed us with open arms — and our fears faded quickly.
It seemed almost too easy to forget that we were in a war-ravaged country. But there were reminders. U.S. soldiers riding in their tanks through the middle of town, children jumping up and down, parents not sure what to do. Being stopped in our car, guns pointed at us, as Iraqi prisoners were led into the local jail. Salivating at the thought of clean, cool water and wondering how these people have lived without it. Wondering why the electricity goes off at least five times each day.
And yet there was a family that rejoiced at our arrival, cooked for us for our entire stay, laughed with us, poured their hearts out to us — nearly made us forget the dangers all around us. Theirs has been a difficult life, much like that of every other family we encountered. There has been great loss.
“They gave their spirit because of freedom,” one Iraqi man shared of the lives lost during the war and — not knowing the immense impact of his words — added, “There is no freedom without spilled blood.”
How true. God took us more than 7,000 miles because of the blood Jesus Christ spilled for the Iraqi people. All He asks of us is to love them. Love. It seems a simple gesture, but the words of another Iraqi man helped me realize that we will never fully understand the impact of God’s love for these people.
“Sometimes I visit the church, and many times I ask him about the love, about the God,” the man said. “And I’m feeling through him I [am] like strong now because I have [an] idea how I can help this area.”
This man, like many who had fled the country in hopes of a better life and freedom from extreme oppression, is now making trips into the country to help his family, his friends and his fellow countrymen. Working through a relief organization, he is helping to provide his region with much-needed food supplies and water.
EFFECTS OF JESUS’ LOVE
“I’m thinking about the love through Jesus, how they love people, how they respect poor people,” the man said. Though he does not consider himself a believer in Jesus Christ, this Iraqi man continues to see the effects of Jesus’ love.
“Even if I cannot believe, I believe he has a power, and I believe he is love,” he said.
And it was His love that I thought about as that ambulance made its way across the desert. It hadn’t been an easy trip for many of the volunteers. Many had become ill. One of our volunteers had become dehydrated in the summer heat and suffered other complications, though she later recovered. This ride was to take us to a medical facility that was bigger and better equipped than the one nearest to us.
I tried to soak in every moment of that ride, of our earlier hike up a mountain. But what remains in my mind are the faces, the lives, the stories:
The young woman, just a year away from an arranged marriage, who cried, “I hate my life.” She faces a future of rarely leaving the home but her heart yearns to be free. The young boy shepherding goats on the mountain. The 11-year-old girl who soaks in everything she hears and longs to learn more. The mother who manages to greet life with a soft smile even as her back aches from years of labor. The Iraqi man lying face-down on the ground in a line of men just like him — bloodied and handcuffed after capture by soldiers.
I am in awe of God’s love for them.
For more about Iraq ministry efforts, go to www.imb.org/urgent. The writer’s name has been changed for security reasons. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GRATITUDE IN IRAQ.