Before we left Sulay, there was one other thing that sticks out in my mind. One of the churches there all came together to hang out with us
We saw this all over the country. People creating events just because we were in town. People spending hours preparing special meals for us so we could all have picnics together and be honored. The Minister of Tourism in one of the cities invited our entire group into his office because he was so excited that such a “large” (10 of us) group of Americans were touring his country. And even the Arab youth we spent time with came out in their Jli Kurdi -traditional kurdish dress for special occasions - (some having to fight with their parents to do so because it was technically a day of mourning for the Halabja attack anniversary) to show us honor and to spend time with us.
Anyway, it was at one of these impromptu gatherings in our honor that we got to spend time with more Christian believers. We sat on someone’s floor (because that’s how most living areas are there – no furniture. You sit on cushions on the floor and eat on plastic on the floor as well. Which, I might actually adopt given the table then becomes the garbage can at the end of the meal and the only “clean up” you have is folding everything up and tossing the entire thing out!) and we all broke into smaller circles to pray together and get to know each other.
There were people there from all over. Americans who had married Kurds, a UK missionary, a political refugee from Iran, etc. It was so incredibly beautiful to see everyone translating for everyone else (people there may speak Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, tribal dialects… it gets ridiculous to watch communication) and to see an Iraqi with his arm slung around an Iranian, praying with him. Or to have an Irish man translate the Kurdish prayer requests into English for us and vice versa. And to hear a lot of the Iraqis pray not for themselves, but for their country. Such a sense of community there versus the individualistic sense we Americans grow up with.
We were told to say one thing we were thankful for and one thing that was bothering us. Mine blended into each other and I couldn’t finish saying what I was thankful for before I was bawling about what was bothering me. I explained that I was thankful just to be there with them and see their faith because I needed a boost in my own faith because I was still mad at God over something that happened a while ago.
Anyway, I pulled it together and we all prayed and moved on to the next person (and I distinctly remember one of them saying they were thankful they still had both parents. Once again, a reminder how many people there lost parents to Saddam’s campaign against the Kurds.) And when the prayer time ended and we all stood up to go eat, one of the Iraqi men in my circle pointed to me and said “You – Psalm 23 is for you.”
I was struck by that. A man in a country that my country fought in recently, a man who undoubtedly has seen so much horror, and I’ve seen so much blessing and protection, and he is smiling, boldly giving me encouragement.
And when something like that happens, it also feels like affirmation that God sees me. That even though I so don’t “agree” with the way He’s doing things in my life sometimes, that at least I have reminders that He’s present, that he sees me.
I got an even bigger confirmation of that, that night when my group came together to discuss the day. As I was walking back to my hotel room, one of our group leaders – we’ll call him john - pulled me aside and said he had something to share with me. Being a kid who was sent to the principal’s office more than once in my childhood, this always makes me think I’m in trouble…
Thankfully, that wasn’t it. He starts to tell me that a group of people at our church back in DC had said a prayer over him before we left the states. And he asks me if I know this one girl, and I don’t because our church is spread over 7 different locations and has thousands of members so there are many people I never lay eyes on. Anyway, this girl started crying while everyone was praying and she just tells ‘john’ “I see one of the girls on your team sitting on the floor, crying, broken…”
And that’s it. Nothing else, no explanation. She’d never seen me before either and of course ‘John’ had no idea what she was referring to. But he told me that the first night we were in Iraq, he saw me tear up as I was talking with the group about why I wanted to come on the trip (clearly, I can’t explain that without crying apparently) so he thought about that vision that the girl told him but he said I was sitting in a chair, so it wasn’t totally the same. But then that morning, he said he looked over and there I was, sitting on the floor, crying, broken.
Do I know what it all means? No. And trust me, I asked if there was anything else to that vision – aka Hello! Was there a point where I was no longer broken? Cuz that’d be nice to hear! – but God is frustratingly funny that way and typically doesn’t give away the whole picture at once. What it did do, however, was give me more affirmation that God sees me. He made a girl who doesn’t know me, see me. And see me on a trip I hadn’t taken yet. And that was moving in itself. I don’t think I’ve ever been in someone’s vision before.... (except maybe in the nightmares of the people who report to me at work....but I digress.)
Anyway, there’s more to my own ‘broken’ situation than I’ll go into here, and more than most people even on my trip know. And in weird ways Iraq has been woven into my life for the last decade so this whole experience is one trippy, intricate thing of different parts of my life that I definitely don’t fully understand, but again, it helped just to get a sign at all. That God sees me, that he isn’t absent. Just hiding temporarily perhaps.
Anyway, the fact that I was in a country where visions are so prevalent when I was told that I myself was part of a vision beforehand back in my own country was really crazy to me.
Moving on! I know these posts are heavier than my norm so never fear, there were funny parts too. Next up – we head to the city of Dohuk.