We will be sending a regular update within the week, but this post is going to take a detour from our lives and work out here in East Africa, to the war that is going on in the middle east…
There is so much death and destruction happening all over the world right now. What has been going on in Syria and Iraq, in particular, has been weighing heavily on my heart.
There’s a song that I love, “The Table,” by Chris Tomlin that paints a beautiful picture of the Lord’s banquet table.
“There is healing at the table of the Lord
I won’t suffer anymore, at His table.
Come all you weary. Come and find His yoke is easy, His burden light.
He is able. He will restore.
At the table of the Lord.”
Years ago, in Turkey, with my brother, sister-in-law, & nephews, Josh and I were able to experience the most incredible farm fresh breakfast. The table was long and full of the most beautiful and tasty food! This is what I picture when I imagine the Lord’s table.
Whenever I hear this song, I see people from all over the world, people who have experienced unimaginable sufferings, sitting together at this long beautiful table full of the most incredible food, laughing, and in fellowship with one another. At this table, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, where you lived, and what you experienced, everyone is equal, everyone is loved by one another. There is no more suffering. Everyone is restored.
As I sit here on my comfy couch, in my lovely home, after I finished a delicious dinner, and I have everything I could ever need and want, I can’t help but try and imagine the loss of all of that and so much more. I can’t imagine it. That is what countless people are facing every day. The loss of their loved ones, their health, their homes, their communities, their lives. And not only the loss of these things, but the addition of horrific experiences, pain, and memories.
It can be easy to sit back and read the headlines, think about how awful it all is, and then continue on with our daily lives. It’s so easy to remove ourselves from what is going on in “that part of the world.” But the more I have had the privilege to travel the world, the smaller it has become. We really are not very far removed from it all. These are our brothers and sisters and this is happening in our world right now.
This breaks my heart.
If I had the particular trauma skill-set where I could physically do something to help, I would. I don’t, but I know people who do. I have a friend, who is a nurse doing similar work as us in Thailand & Burma, who recently volunteered at the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Mosul, Iraq. Her newsletter really spoke to me and with her permission, I would like to share it with you. She speaks of the horrific atrocities going on but also stories of hope amidst all of the evil.
We all can do something. We can pray. And pray hard.
Lets join together in prayer for these countries and these people, for the safety of those sacrificing to help, and for more stories of hope. Lets pray that one day we all will be sitting together with our brothers and sisters in fellowship at the table and suffering will turn into laughter and joy.
“My heart has been heavy
It’s difficult to know where to start to write about my time in Iraq! To summarize it in a one-liner from a Charles Dicken’s book, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That famous quote now is part of my life experience. It really was some of the greatest times I have had in my life bonding and getting to know the people and stories behind the headlines of the war in Mosul, Iraq. I formed deep friendships with national and ex-patriate staff that will last a lifetime and I saw God work in unbelievable and amazing ways. Many of our Kurdish and Iraqi co-workers have lived under the dark tragedy of terrorism and war their entire life. Please know by sharing, I can never and will never place my experiences on the same level or intensity as the national staff or patients. The staff and patients are my heroes (the true heroes), their faces and words forever etched in my heart and mind. These words are not only to share about the horrific situation that has unfolded in Iraq, but to share the hope amidst suffering, the joy side by side with sorrow, and the deep love sprouting in the midst of pure hate and evil. Before reading, please know some of these words are graphic.
While it was the best of times, it was also the worst of times. The patients’ vivid stories, grief, loss, and streaming tears made it so real, like they were at the gates of hell. The severe malnutrition of the people of Mosul was devastating… their injuries horrific. Each patient had a story. Each story was full of tragedy: loss of homes, livelihoods, food, joy, and family. Almost every patient that entered our facility had an immediately family member that was killed, a relative missing or unaccounted for, or someone they love seriously injured. Many of them witnessed the injury/death of their family members first hand. Some were only saved because a family member was standing directly in front of them who took the brunt impact of the mortar, IED, bullet or shrapnel to the chest/head/abdomen. Many of our patients remained trapped for days to months after their injuries unable to escape, hiding in their homes while Daesh (AKA ISIS), roamed the streets like snakes looking to strike at any opportunity to bring death and suffering.
Working in the trauma room, we had the task of being first to see a patient after they went through a rigorous security screening process. It often took 10-15 minutes for security to initially screen a patient, removing all bandages and splints before they came to us. As frustrating as this may seem, it was understandable because there was evidence of Daesh placing explosive devices in patients going into hospitals. We couldn’t help anyone if we were killed. We based our triaging on a four-color scale. This proved to be a heart heavy task. Green is walking wounded. Yellow is serious but can wait. Red is needs immediate intervention, and black is either a deceased patient or with injuries too serious to treat, like shrapnel in the brain on an unconscious patient. Labeling a patient a black was difficult, but it didn’t mean we left them to die alone. NO patient was ever left alone. Comfort measures were given to all patients, including triaged black patients. We sat with every patient. We prayed over them, cried over them, held their hands, provided pain medication, cradled children in our arms, and even sang to them. Some patients passed away quickly and some fought for hours. While thousands died alone in Mosul, there was an odd type of comfort knowing not one person died alone in our safe facility. Perhaps in some way, we provided some dignity in their last few moments or hours. It’s all a bit difficult to comprehend, too painful to remember.
Different tactics emerged during my time there of what this evil terrorist organization can do to people. They placed feces in bombs to cause deadly infections if someone even survived their injuries. And so many people died from sepsis (bloodstream infection). One single mass grave discovered not too far from Mosul had over 1,700 Yazidi people who had been tortured in unimaginable ways. This is one of numerous graves that have been uncovered. Some grave areas have thousands of IEDs to make it seemingly impossible to uncover. They barricaded people in their homes to die from dehydration and hunger. Some patients who came to our facility had been trying to survive eating grass and paper. Making a building seem like a well-used Daesh facility, but hiding innocent women and children inside, so when a US airstrike hit and over 150 civilians were killed and dozens injured, the propaganda against “the evil West and military” could prevail. I could go on and on.
For the protection of all staff and patients, names have been changed. There are a few stories that I will never forget. I had a young teenage man named Mohammad who came to us after being trapped in his semi-destroyed home for one month after his injury. He was extremely emaciated, any life in his eyes had been stripped away. When I heard his story, my heart was shattered. He and 30 other males including immediate family members had been kidnapped by Daesh and lined up in a line to be executed for their “nominal faith,” or refusing to obey commands to become suicide bombers or personally kill their loved ones. The firing squad opened up. They attempted shooting him four times, the fourth shot hitting him in the arm. He fell to the dirt ground, pretending to be dead while staring at his dying family members next to him, unable to help. More shots fired. Fortunately, he was not hit again. However, he laid on the ground for over four hours, fearful to move until he was sure Daesh was gone. By this time, all his family members had died and he was the only survivor out of 30 plus men. At night, Mohammad carefully made his way back to his home where he hid with a fractured arm for one month until his neighborhood was liberated by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
Fortunately, his arm had been reduced (aligned) by a neighbor who was a physician and was slowly healing. However, this young man has a lifelong road of recovery for the mental and emotional wounds and scars. We casted his arm, gave him a big meal, and prayed over him. At this point, there was not much physically we could do for him, so he was sent out with a distant relative.
I could share numerous stories, many more traumatic than this. Some days it could feel as we were seemingly at the gates of hell, but there were so many stories where hope and love prevailed. So I want to share with you a story of joy, one of a family reunited, one that touched me in a special way. One day in the trauma room we found out one of our male patients, Ahmed, had a daughter in the hospital he had not seen in a long time. We ended up bringing his daughter, Zahra, on a stretcher to see him. As we were navigating the stretcher over the uneven ground, Zahra was crying and screaming. Before she even reached the trauma room where her father awaited, he heard and recognized his little girls cry. While these men are often stoic, tears started flowing down this father’s face as he yelled out “Zahra, Zahra, Zahra!” We brought the stretchers together, he immediately grabbed her hand and began kissing her and loving on her. Oh, this sweet reunion… all of us had some tears running down our face at this point to see a family reunited.
Does this remind you of anything? It does for me. Do you know that our Heavenly Father hears your cries individually and calls us by name? Do you know that it breaks his heart and he weeps for those who are brokenhearted, not just in a war zone, but for you wherever you are? Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” The last verse is the shortest in the Bible, yet so profound. In this passage, Jesus wept at the grave of a man named Lazarus.
Tears have a language of their own. The tears of the Lord speak volumes in this dispensation of grace. He did NOT weep because Lazarus was dead. Wait, what? Jesus didn’t care that Lazarus was dead? Listen up! He knew in a moment He could restore life to him and many of you know, this is exactly what he did. Jesus wept when He saw Lazarus’s sisters crying. One of Lazarus’s sisters, Mary, was heart broken. Her brother had died, and she believed that Jesus had arrived too late. She was hurting and without hope, crying out with deep sobbing. She poured out her soul to the Lord. When Jesus saw her, he wept with her. This great God of ours is touched personally by our own hurts and broken hearts. In Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God talks about keeping our tears in a bottle. One of the last time tears is mention in the Bible is in Revelations 21:4. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He has kept all our tears in a bottle, and one day He will wipe them all away. Isn’t that beautiful? There were many tears shed at the EFH, but I can meditate on knowing we have a Lord who is not just near to us, but that holds all our tears and is touched by our broken hearts. He weeps with me, with you, with every patient and family affected not just in Mosul or Iraq, but also in Burma, Thailand, and every inch of this earth. He is intimately concerned with every aspect of our lives. He doesn’t judge whether our sorrow is “valid.” But because of his compassion, He catches every tear that is shed. And that is one of my big desires, is that everyone would know that the Lord truly knows, loves, and deeply cares about them personally and individually.
Oh man, I have written too much already. I will have to share some more stories in a future email. A huge piece of my heart was left in Iraq. My life radically changed forever. Thanks for reading my emails. It means a lot to hear from you guys. Thanks for keeping me in your thoughts, praying for me and everyone at the hospital. Please continue to pray.
I hope you were as touched as I was after reading this.
Thank you for reading & praying,