What I saw in Iraq

With the situation taking place right now in Northern Iraq, I started re-reading my thoughts after visiting there last year. I thought I'd re-post some in the hopes that it helps personalize some of the human experience there or gives a little more context into what people living there have already endured before this latest blow. I'm definitely not an expert, but I figure most Americans have not visited that particular country for "fun" so I might as well share what I saw. Another place to find some beautiful context is on the Humans of New York site or Facebook page. He is there now, visually capturing human experience in the midst of such conflict. 

(from original post in April 2013)
It's hard for me to describe what all we experienced in Iraqi Kurdistan because so much of the Kurds' experience is so foreign to our experience as Americans. There, it's very common for someone to be mid-conversation and casually mention "yeah, so then I was in the 3rd grade...and that's when my father was buried alive by Saddam...and then we went to fourth grade..." They don't miss a beat, it's so common of an experience there to have lost one or both parents, or to have been imprisoned or been tortured. Just in our short time there, we had the following occur (along with many other similar encounters):

1. While we were in mid-conversation with a Christian pastor in his living room, our host stopped him and said "well, *Pastor X [I'm not using actual names in these posts because many people there could be in danger, either for their beliefs or because they fled another country, etc.] weren't you put in prison as well?" And he laughs and says "oh yes! It was a wonderful time in my ministry because so many people in Iraq end up in prison at some point so I had a captive audience!" 

The fact that he was in prison didn't even cross his mind though. That's how normal it is.

2. While we were hanging out with Arab youth studying English in a park at the site of one of Saddam's old torture centers, we found out that the most gregarious kid of them all, one who happily told us of his plans to go to America and be in the creative arts, had had a brother shot and killed inside the torture center we toured a couple days beforehand.

3. The owners of the English learning center where these kids attended, casually mentioned that they give discounts to families in need and "martyrs." I later asked our host what they considered a martyr and she said it meant they helped anyone whose parents had been murdered by Saddam. They had a discount for that, it was so prevalent.

4. During a church service, where you'd normally hear prayer requests like "oh, I'm thinking of switching jobs so pray for wisdom" or "oh I'm having car problems, pray for that," we literally heard requests (translated for us) for things like "pray for church member X whose father was just kidnapped and held for ransom," "pray for all those across Iraq who are in prison with no justifiable cause." Such an eye-opener....

But the resiliency of the people there. 


Part of the reason I was so excited to come on this trip was because I've struggled with my own faith the last few years and I really wanted to hear from people who would inspire me again. 
And I know a lot of people who read this blog do not subscribe to faith in Jesus, but ya'll know I do and I was visiting with fellow "believers" most of the time I was in Iraq so a lot of my stories will be about them. Deal with it. :) No, in all seriousness, I hope you keep reading anyway. If not, I'll come find you....  
Anyway, I actually think the U.S. might be a more difficult place at times than other countries to have a true, meaningful Christian faith because we are so spoiled, or because Christianity is so well-known and played off as simple-minded, or because many people feel like it's enough to just go to church once a year or say you "believe in a higher power" and that's it. I think true belief in God/Jesus/The Bible requires discipline and some sacrifice and permeates your whole life, not just enters it every now and then when it's convenient. It's tough to live that way, and to find a ton of other people who also live that way, but in some African, Latin American, Middle Eastern, etc. cultures, I've seen such an intense awe of God, such a raw belief that I start craving that again and end up travelling again every few years to find it. I was searching for that when I headed to Iraq and I definitely found it. We heard many stories of people from all backgrounds explaining that they'd had visions or recurring dreams or experiences that for whatever reason made them know Jesus is real and that they needed to believe in God's sovereignty. Stuff that you can't just chalk up to coincidence or influence from someone else. Things that happened to them that they just couldn't deny.

It was remarkable to experience the raw faith in God and sense of hope these people had after going through so many horrific things. There’s no indication of bitterness or loss of faith in a “good God” because of what they’ve experienced. I find that remarkable and feel like that’s a supernaturally-given strength and peace that I could use myself sometimes. Even though my situations where I question God pale so much in comparison to theirs.

In that same city, we heard a first-hand account of someone’s torture experience in one of Saddam’s old prison/torture centers. I’ll tell you about that next post.

(you can read the next post now here, or I'll re-post it soon.)