So many of us are exhausted by the endless breaking news cycle filled with catastrophe after scandal after disaster. When we look around our cities we see homelessness, potholes, pollution, and displacement. When we survey our own lives, most of us aren’t where we want to be in life. And so our feelings evolve into cynicism, defeatism, fatigue, and apathy. We used to care, but that didn’t seem to get us anywhere. Things don’t seem to change for the good. So we just stop “feeling like it”, turning to distractions that make us feel something better, and we insulate ourselves from being emotionally jaded and exhausted, settling for rhythms of life that keep us feeling good.
Our feelings and moods are pretty powerful stuff. They can move into action or paralyze us altogether. They are one of the most significant forces in how we make choices: “I felt like…
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Partners Relief & Development just sent another team to Mosul, Northern Iraq, to help survivors of occupation as the Iraqi Army fights to liberate the city. My wife is there with a team to distribute aid and help those who flee ongoing offensives in the city. That’s why I’m resurrecting my blog. Everyone should read this first hand, blow-by-blow account from my bad-ass, courageous, and loving wife. The words that follow are direct quotes with changed names and locations for security.
I am writing from a house in Mosul. People used to live here. Seems like nobody knows who and where they are now. Right now, it is inhabited by soldiers from the Iraqi army. As are all the other houses in the street. Where cars once were parked, are now tanks.
The soldiers are kind and respectful. As far as I have been able to observe, I am the only woman on the street. Just like in Burma, I get asked if I am Karen Eubank.
After dinner, prepared in soldierly ways, we were talking to a captain in the army. He is tall and intimidating. Been fighting ISIS for years. I understood while listening to him that he is tough and strong, but also soft and kind. “A lady came to us yesterday,” he said. “ISIS had attacked and the civilians ran. During the flight, she got separated from her four children aged 13 and under. She came to us and begged us to help her find her kids. The soldiers went back to her village and found that ISIS had killed all the four kids. She already lost her husband to them. The woman embraced one of the soldiers when she heard what had happened to her kids and asked to die.”
“I admire groups like yours, that come here to actually help,” he continued. “I meet many others who say the right things on camera, but they don’t do anything. You and FBR really care about helping the people.” “Are there other aid organizations in the area who are helping the civilians right now?” asked I. He thought for some seconds and stared into the air. “I can’t remember that I have seen a single one,” was his answer. “You and FBR are the only ones.”
He talked about the army’s efforts to help the civilians. “We prepare food when we can. Sometimes we provide vehicles that will transport them. We also make a pass way for them to escape when they run from ISIS.” “How far would IDPs have to fly to find food and water if they didn’t get it here?” John asked. The captain hardly understood the question. But when he finally did, he said: “So far. There is no other place for them to get help.”
Tomorrow we will distribute the water and food we bought today. It was an interesting exercise to go shopping. The whole city looks so desolate. Like there is nothing left. Just a shell. The color brown is everywhere. Garbage and filth line the streets and the sidewalks. There are very few people. Shopping seems impossible. But then, behind a gate that was opened for us we could enter a storage full of food, from floor to ceiling. Amil had his shopping list ready, and started at the top. I realized then that in Iraq, every event is worthy of negotiations and discussions. Especially events involving money. So, a circle of seven men discussed for quite some time the price of water bottles. I have no idea what the agreement was, but I am sure it was a good one. Impossible to say what it would have been had they not stood in that circle and shared their opinions.
From one storage, we went to a new one. This one had many customers and a variety of goods. I was fascinated by the dried fruits and nuts displayed in baskets. They were covered with flies and dust, and a young boy was sitting on top of one of the piles. It was a bit concerning. Are all walnuts treated that way?
While John and Amil negotiated prices and amounts, and Sean took pictures, I did Snapchat. Some of the curious kids who were not afraid of me took selfies with me, and we put silly faces on ourselves, such as a mouse nose, and rabbit ears.
“It has been just three months since we were liberated,” a young man told me. “We were occupied by ISIS for three years here on this street. They were terrible. When the army came and liberated us there was a siege for 12 days. During those 12 days we could not leave our homes. But now we are free. Soon the schools will open again and I can resume my studies.”
After dinner the Major and the Captain both apologized for the lack of plan for tomorrow. “There may be no fighting, and therefore less civilians fleeing,” they explained. It was kind of comical. That they would apologize for no war. We told them it was really fine if there was no more fighting. But, as if ordered, the fighting started. After dinner. The mortars exploding sounds closer than they ought to be. But we have been assured it is OK, they are not shooting at us. So we keep eating nuts and melon, reading, editing photos and perhaps deciding to go to bed.
There are some basic truths to life: Everybody will get blisters. Love is overrated.
No, this is better: Pimples are inevitable. Love hurts.
Or, how about this one: All will have bad hair days. Love sucks.
And then the ultimate: The blisters, the pimples and the bad hair days come and go, but love lasts forever.
Over the many years I have lived, I have loved much. I have loved pets and people the most. But I have also loved a knitted cardigan, a ragdoll with matted hair and a cozy corner of my living room.
Right now I love avocados, the dog we used to have, to run, and to feel the cold air playing on my face after ascending a mountain top. I love the smell of rosemary and of cinnamon. I love the sound of children giggling.
The avocado love is the kind of love that doesn’t…
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“And because you not always can keep your eyes shut there comes the real trouble–the heart pain–the world pain.
I tell you, my friend, it is not good for you to find you cannot make your dream come true, for the reason that you not strong enough are, or not clever enough. . . . Ja! . . .
And all the time you are such a fine fellow too! Wie? Was? Gott im Himmel! How can that be? Ha! ha! ha!”
’The shadow prowling amongst the graves of butterflies laughed boisterously.”
― Joseph Conrad,
The wedding photo, a water damaged copy mounted in gold gilt plastic and plate glass was hanging from a strand of string in an unlit cement block room measuring about 15 square feet. I spent an hour with the family of 6 who have lived, slept, and cooked their sparse food in this small room for nearly two years. This is the one possession they managed to take with them when they ran from their home.
Their kids aren’t in school. They don’t have adequate water, electricity, or plumbing. The unfinished buildings a businessman allows them to live in also house 180 more families who fled Sinjar at the same time. Another village destroyed by ISIS.
Poverty is one thing. This is another. I find myself thinking again of a quote by Ellie Weisel who said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” But what to do when you are neither indifferent or hateful, but lack the power to fix the problem? What do you do when the good you are capable of costs money and emotional fortitude but there’s not enough of that around?
The picture. The people. The place. Try to imagine it. Imagine that it is your wedding picture and this living hell has suddenly become your living hell. Then ask with me how to:
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
I flew home from Kurdistan yesterday and am empty. Kapoosh. I look at my photos and start to cry like a hungry child. I am powerless. I range from sadness to rage to blank stares at the ceiling. I feel so much rage and anger at the systemic denial of justice happening in the world today, that I can’t stand the sight of my bible. The answers in it seem too prescriptive and simple in the face of such complex and prolific terror. God, help.
I want to write down the stories of the Yazidi, Arabs, tribal people, and the wonderful Kurds I shared tea with. It’s just that everything I write feels like a flimsy trivialization of the horror they have been through. How can I do this? How can I paint an accurate picture of the scale of suffering, injustice, and hunger these people experience? Even harder still, how can i describe the warmth I felt being with them, their sense of humor and the tenacity of their spirit?
I’ll try again tomorrow.
In the meantime, if you pray; please stay on your knees. If you give; please keep sharing. If you love people of all shapes, races, religions, orientations, social groups, and colors; keep on keeping on. Because this hateful world desperately needs you.
We were in shock, we were angry, and we were grieved all at the same time…
The lines on her Yazidi face testified that her 61 years in Sinjar have been hard ones. Two years ago, ISIS attacked her village and her life would never be the same. While wiping away tears she described the ordeal that took away her home, her friends, and 12 members of her family.
“We didn’t own a car so we couldn’t escape quickly enough. ISIS troops surrounded us and separated the men from the women. They put the old people and children together in a third group. Any of the girls over 12 and young women were taken away to a market in Mosul and sold as sex slaves. Some of the girls were my grand daughters, one of them was only 15 years old. I don’t know where they are, if they are alive, I don’t know anything…” she said in a defeated whisper. She was caged, starved, jailed, and beaten. After a full year of continuous violence, she was fortunate enough to escape.
Our team sat before her stunned and humbled by the grief and inner strength of this remarkable woman. She is one of the 4 million refugees and internally displaced people living in squalor in Iraq. All of them carry the burden of similar stories.
The Kurdish government invited us to fast track registration as a charity in Iraq so that we can go to work immediately. I know we are in the right place and that our way of working is a perfect fit for this complex conflict.
We helped the Yazidi grandmother with some simple provisions and prayed for her. We have distributed food, soap and water tanks to a few hundred families. We have done all of this because of your support. We can do much more. There are millions of displaced people who need the compassion we showed to thousands this week.
We are experiencing a conflict and human disaster on a massive scale. We are here now and our response has already impacted many. We have the expertise, the determination, and the faith to get involved on a much deeper level. However, without your partnership, we cannot hope to succeed. You are an essential participant in this new venture.
Meanwhile we won’t leave behind the crucial life saving work we do in Myanmar in order to work here in the Middle East. The only way to engage with this massive crisis is to quickly grow in size, budget, and staff. I am inviting you to be a part of this. Please respond today.
We are willing to accept the risk involved because of a Yazidi grandmother and millions of others like her. They deserve our best and God compels us to do nothing less.
Her family said she couldn’t speak. She was crouched in the third floor of an unfinished concrete building. She saw me when I got close enough, grabbed my hands and whispered something warm and beautiful in my ear while she kissed my half clasped fist. Her face curved into a kind smile. I melted in front of her warm gesture.
Her grandson also whispered to me while I was touring the building and meeting some of the 100 families who have lived in this place for 2 years, “This is our life. This terrible place and poverty is our life. But we are happy.” “Why are you happy?” I asked. “We are alive.” was his reply.
ISIS forces occupy the village she is from. Their stories of loss, death, and suffering, are sickening to hear. I asked many people in her community what they need. “We want to go home.” they said. “What’s the second thing?” I asked. They replied without exception: “Jobs.”
We started our day meeting Saleewa, a priest in a Chaldean Christian Church that has been meeting since 1854. We were waved into the church grounds by Peshmerga soldiers, all Muslims, who believe that it is their duty to protect this treasure of the region of Kirkuk, a Christian church.
The people we have met and the introduction to the conflict in Iraq was all due to Preemptive Love Coalition, a group of peacemakers who have inspired us to dig deeper into our reserves of grit and bravery.
In the compound we met our guide, an imposing and quiet man who went with us to visit a camp with 680 families from three nearby villages who were forced to relocate because ISIS overran their villages. On our way I heard a loud blast and thought it was lightning. It turns out that two missiles flew over our car. I asked our driver, a Policeman from the city, “what was that?” He said, “Rockets.” It turns out that we were just a mile from ISIS positions at that point. The he added, “Rockets are like water for us. Every day they are in the air.”
In the distance we could see the hills the 680 families came from. We spent a few hours talking with the leaders, playing with the children, and witnessing the sub-standard conditions of people who have been forced to live in a flood plain for the past 18 months –in plain view of their home for generations. One man told us as he gestured with pointed fingers, “Our village is beautiful. We have a river, mountains and large trees. Look over there, you can see it in the far distance.”
Over lunch we learned that our guide had previously negotiated the release of 72 Kurdish Christians who were held held captive by ISIS. Because of him, innocent victims of war are alive and free today. He uses his freedom to gain the freedom of others and his leadership is inspired by Jesus who said we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Inspiring to say the least.
Finishing our day with a long drive back to our hotel, I reflected that war is terrible and the complexities are bewildering. In the meantime, here we are making friends and demonstrating an alternative to violence to create lasting peace and reconciliation. God is good.