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Outreach in Iraq via food box distribution a life-changing experience, volunteers say

CENTRAL IRAQ (BP)–Hal Newell is not usually an emotional person, but he wept several times during the 10 days he recently spent in Iraq helping distribute food boxes collected by Southern Baptist churches earlier this year.

Newell and other volunteers from Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., agreed that working in war-ravaged Iraq has changed them.

“You cannot help but be moved by seeing the plight of the Iraqi people,” said Newell, who operates an engraving company in Clemmons, N.C. “They’ve been oppressed so many years, even before Saddam came along. Now they’re starting to see hope. But many are still in desperate straits. They’re living on about $40 a year, and unemployment is 60 percent. This place really pulls at your heart.

“Another hard thing was to see the look of despair in the adults’ eyes. They have this empty look in their eyes, like there’s absolutely no hope,” Newell said, shaking his head.

Volunteer Doug Wells, who has worked on two projects in Honduras, said visiting Iraq “made me realize how good I have it at home, but also that I have a responsibility to reach out to other people.”

Even getting to Iraq represented a victory for Wells, who fears flying.

“I gave that over to God and He took that fear away,” he said, adding that God also led them out of some “sticky situations” in Iraq, “showing us His faithfulness.”


Jim Walker, another volunteer, left Iraq thankful that scores of Iraqi children felt free to come up, shake his hand and follow him through a village as he labored in 100-plus-degree heat to deliver food boxes.

“It breaks my heart to think about them staying behind in their poverty,” said Walker, a big teddy bear of a man with a ready smile. “These kids are starved for attention, and I could tell some of them have not eaten well. But their biggest need is to know the love of Jesus Christ.”

Mothers handed him their babies to hold and he gladly accepted them, thinking of his own daughter back home. Walker also admitted he had experienced some fear about coming to Iraq, but had put it aside because he had such a clear sense of God’s leading to make the trip.

“Let’s just say it has been a soul-stretching experience,” he said with a grin.


“My perception of the Iraqi people has dramatically changed,” volunteer Larry Ledford said. “I think Americans who get their view of the world from television get a false impression of what it is. Like a lot of Americans, I saw the Iraqis as enemies. They are not enemies.

“The people I’ve met here have been warm and open and friendly, and they just have a natural curiosity that is very charming to me. They are family oriented, and they want to have more of an outlook on the outside world than they have had.”

Another volunteer seconded the idea that media-fueled perceptions of Iraq are not accurate.

“I don’t feel unsafe here. It’s a big country,” the volunteer, whose name has been withheld for security reasons, said. “Yesterday was a violent day in Iraq. If you were in one of five places yesterday, you had a bad day. But if you were in any of 100,000 other places yesterday, you had a good day. And people need to realize that. There’s danger in the States coming down the interstate highway.”

He said he would bring other teams to Iraq because there is a need for a long-term commitment to share the Good News of Christ’s love with the country.


However, Ledford said his experience changed more than just his perception of Iraq and its people. He now better understands the importance of supporting Southern Baptist workers on the field.

“Coming to Iraq has made a profound impact on me — and that is how much more I need to support international missions when I get back home,” he said. “I need to put more emphasis on using the skills that I have to raise more money for missions teams and also to help support the people out there who are making a lifelong commitment, as opposed to a 10-day commitment like I’m doing.”

Newell said one of his most memorable moments came when an Iraqi boy, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, spoke to him in limited English. “He grabbed my hand and stopped me and looked at me dead in the eyes and he said, ‘Please tell Mr. Bush. Please give him my warmest regards.'”

Newell vowed to do just that in a letter to the president.
More on Iraq ministry efforts: http://www.imb.org/urgent.
Your gifts will help: http://www.resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/961.htm.
Iraq video and audio clips: http://www.imb.org/urgent/media2.asp.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GRATEFUL, FOOD FOR HUNGRY IRAQIS and FREE HUGS.

    About the Author

  • Mike Creswell