Part 1: March 2017
It seemed like an awesome opportunity! I had connected with a non-profit organization working in Iraq and they expressed interest in bringing me out there to provide trauma training. Since I was already planning to go in the summer to Africa, I suggested coming “on the way.” But the heat of summer wasn’t a great time for them, with the electricity not always available to run their air conditioning and many people out of town. Could I come in April or May? With it already being close to the end of March, it seemed a lot of re-configuration would be necessary, but I looked for a way to come at the very end of April, beginning of May. They said the latter half of May would be better, and they were waiting for approval for logistics and funding. It was already April and I had adjusted my schedule and found the best airplane tickets when I got the word back: it wouldn’t work out this May, but perhaps in the Fall.
What? It seemed like things were coming together to do what I feel called to do in a place of great need. Instead of, “Oh well, maybe next time,” I couldn’t shake the possibility of still going, connecting with the other people I’d met there and had told me that I was always needed and welcome, who were already aware I was planning to come. There was a little voice in my head: “Go… go…” Was this God’s prompting, or just my own thoughts? I didn’t know if I could raise enough money and the price for the airline tickets was surely going to rise soon. But in a conversation with my pastor, he offered to make my work the focus of the next “missions weekend” for raising support. That would provide $1000. Surely that was confirmation! I decided I would buy the tickets “in faith.”
Part 2: May 1, 2017
The departure date for Iraq was less than two weeks away. I had sent messages to the multiple contacts in the region, but none had responded. No doors were swinging wide open, although the original organization said they would still like me to come and have a one-on-one sessions with their staff. What would I be doing the rest of the time? I didn’t know how I should be preparing. The family that had previously told me how welcome I would be (“all the time!”) hadn’t answered the last couple emails. A couple that had traveled with me on the last trip to the Middle East and had the contact info for other connections hadn’t replied to my messages.
On mission’s Sunday a lot of people were interested in my work, but I wasn’t even sure what I would be doing on my upcoming trip. Was it unwise to invest money in travel that could be used in better ways? On Monday I was in tears, realizing how quickly departure was coming and how much was unknown. Adding the reality of the massive amounts of preparation for Africa I needed to do in the short window between trips and delays in other areas of responsibility, I felt overwhelmed. Perhaps it was all my own foolishness. But my tickets were booked; I was still going.
Part 3: May 20, 2017
I was glad for the time I spent with the staff and family of NGOs in the area. Time with each individual, hearing the stories, the struggles, witnessing some having encounters with Jesus, helping others process the trauma and next steps… all of these made my time in Sulaymaniyah fulfilling. But I was expecting to be in Dohuk by now! The couple I was originally expecting to stay with had never returned my emails; their colleague just informed me that they were out of the country and he was probably too busy to do anything. I was able to get ahold of my local contact (who hadn’t responded to my previous messages) via phone, and he seemed ready to arrange something, but it was vague… and sounded like a one-day visit. Then I found a piece of paper with another name of someone who did trauma work in Suli and sent off an email. She forwarded it to another person who was outside of the country but well-connected, who forwarded my info to five others in Dohuk, sending me their phone numbers and email addresses. But it was Friday (the equivalent of a Sunday), none of the calls went through, and I didn’t have a place to sleep in Dohuk on Saturday night; I wasn’t going to go if I didn’t have a place to stay; so much for the carpooling option that day. So I stayed in Suli on Saturday, with no answer to the emails I sent in response to initial interest being expressed. How many days was I going to “lose” waiting for things to come together? Was I just not strategic enough in my planning?
Part 4: May 28, 2017
“If you had known the couple would not be there, would you still have gone?”
Those words came to mind as plans were falling into place… many of which I had not anticipated. On Sunday (which is their equivalent of a Monday), I finally got a phone conversation with a contact in Dohuk, who sent me the email of the guest house coordinator. After sending him a message, I asked my gracious hostess to inquire a trusted taxi-driver if he happened to be available that day or the next, while frequently checking my email for a response. Yes, he could drive me after 3pm; when would I know if I needed his services? Good question. Finally, word came through past noon, there was room in the guest house, and fortunately the driver was still available for the last-minute request. Shortly after 3pm, I was on the road for the 5+ hour drive. After arriving and finding a functioning wi-fi connection, final texts and emails confirmed events for the next day (after the earlier, “No pressure, but it would be helpful to know if you’re going with us tomorrow…), and blurry potential plans for the rest of week. I found myself suddenly juggling six different parties, waiting for a response from one to tell another which day was free, and trying to set a time with another when not knowing when the previous one would end.
Yet, somehow, opportunities were falling into place. Monday was a day visiting families in a Syrian refugee camp who had a member with a disability, followed by an evening meeting with a professor whose impeccable English had helped provide translation for an earlier trauma training. Tuesday included time in a Yezidi IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp, again focusing on those with disabilities, and an evening with an expat psychiatric nurse who had spent years dealing with the severe effects of the trauma faced by so many. Wednesday was a shorter visit is a small camp for 45 displaced Christian families, talking with two of them and hearing of their desire to go “home.” That night was dinner with an expat family, including brainstorming about providing future programs in the area. Thursday included a trip to a Christian town, where yet another mother-tongue, Syriac Aramaic, was heard (adding to the list of Kurdish and Arabic dialects). An organization from the Chaldean church there was reaching out with support groups in near camps, but always looking for additional training for the staff. When could I come?
Friday, the weekend for them, was my last full day. I went with one of the staff members for a short hike and a view of the dam and its surrounding activities. Then it was packing up to leave the next morning, gathering both my bags and my thoughts. Reflecting on all that occurred, I again thought about my initial decision. Was it originally my foolishness, which somehow God redeemed and reframed? Or was it really done in faith, fulfilled in the unexpected events orchestrated by God? Perhaps it was both: a foolish faith. Some could easily say it was “made without regard for reason or reality” (the Merriam-Webster definition of foolishness) with some degree of accuracy. But faith should also “not rest on human wisdom…” (the reason and reality that prevent foolishness), “…but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
This story is not a recommendation for ridiculous behavior. However, there are times when our logical plans conflict with the direction of the Holy Spirit. That is where are faith may be stretched: can I put God’s will above my own? Can I trust His plans when my own seem more sensible or less risky?
Are you willing to step outside of your logical comfort zone to see God’s power at work?