“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.”~ Helen Keller
Words hold potential to convey both meaning and sentiment, but every now and then fall short on both counts. At times, words won’t flow at all; herein lies my predicament. I fully intended to post compelling accounts of my encounters in Iraq, but each attempt ends in an unnerving swell of emotion that demands I turn away from the task at hand in order to weep and pray over the most horrific and hopeless contexts I have witnessed in nearly forty years of global ministry. Evil is neither philosophical abstract nor pigeonhole for whatever goes wrong in the world. It has a name-ISIS, whose hideous malevolence darkens the countenance of the innocent. While walking through the burned-out shell of a church near Mosul, Iraq, Franklin Graham’s translator told him that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria graffiti scrawled on the walls read, “You love life, we love death.” Members of ISIS had painted their flag and written, “We have come to drink your blood.” The full import of war can never be fully measured by calloused assessment of casualties and mass migrations, it is painfully recorded in hollow eyes and blank stares, in ragtag children forced to scrounge for food and live in plastic tents if they’re luck enough to call one home, in a mother raising a family of eight or more in a tent too small for half that many, in children that dream at night with no hope for tomorrow. Dignity is at a premium when life is reduced to living one cup of water at a time.
Perhaps the starkest contrast for me in Iraq was standing in the Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital near the curtained off room where the injured lie who have no hope of life. They come there to die. A handwritten sign above the simple bed instructs the medical staff to secure a replacement before leaving the space. Someone sits at all times with the terminally injured while they step over the threshold to whatever awaits them beyond this life. Indiscriminate compassion trumps evil. Love flourishes in tears, and hope finds purchase in hearts cleansed by Jesus against the backdrop of blood smeared bodies and missing limbs. Evil does not deserve the spotlight; Christ definitely does. It is especially difficult for me to write about the night because I choose to linger on the light, however meager it may seem at the moment. Buechner speaks of this early in his writing: “…although many modern writers have succeeded in exploring the depths of human darkness and despair and alienation in a world where God seems largely absent, there are relatively few who have tried to tackle the reality of whatever salvation means…Sin is easier to write about than grace, I suppose, because the territory is so familiar…I was too occupied with my job to think much about the next novel I myself might write, but it occurred to me that, if and when the time ever came, it would be the presence of God rather than his absence that I would write about, of death and dark and despair as not the last reality but only the next to the last.” I push beyond the veil of hopelessness and choose to dwell on glimpses of redemption. I hold on to the memory of standing in a displacement camp for those forced to flee from their homes in Mosul and cooing to fourteen-day-old survivor Shahem whose name means “strong.” I choose to remember Milad who has lost everything of earthly value yet proudly declares his name means “Jesus came.” I lift my heart and pray for the ministry of Grace Community Center near Khanke IDP camp, where 16,000 Yazidis live in tents with another 25,000 outside the camp. The Center reaches out to survivors of mass genocide and a living hell at the hands of ISIS. Many of those finding refuge at the Center are girls who have escaped unspeakable slavery, and for the first time in a very long time are surrounded by people who care and offer restoration in Jesus’ name. Evil cannot hold a candle to hope. Darkness boasts that victory belongs to the shadows, but light triumphs by punching holes in the night.