Blown Bridges and Easter in Mosul
19 April, 2017
We celebrated Easter on the banks of the Tigris river beside one bridge that had been blown up by bombs, and another that had just been swept away by a flood. How that happened is a story I would like to share.
We were in West Mosul doing relief operations when friends with another medical and relief organization called us to ask if we could come and meet in East Mosul. While most of our team stayed on the west side of Mosul, Karen, the kids, Eliya (our medic), David (our Karen video man), an Iraqi soldier named Muhammad, and Shaheen (our Yizidi translator) all went to meet with our friend. We brought the soldier Muhammad along because of his interest in Jesus and meeting other Christians. We drove back around the city to cross the Tigris river to the east bank. There used to be many bridges in Mosul but all were destroyed during the fighting, and now two pontoon bridges had been put up south Mosul.
When we arrived at the first pontoon bridge we normally used, we found flood waters had just swept it away. Now, a 3 1/2 hour drive just got longer and we would be late to the meeting. The next bridge was an hours drive south and on the other side – the route was even longer. The new route also went back through Kurdish lines which meant more check points and permissions. We had no other choice and so we called our friends to say we would be late and to please pray for us to make it. As we were on the phone driving and praying, our tire went flat and now we would be even later. But, it went flat across from a newly opened tire repair shop so we switched out tires and were moving again quickly. We crossed at the second bridge which was another pontoon bridge crossing that had been constructed as a temporary replacement for the bridge a hundred meters up stream. It had also been blown up during the fight against ISIS in this area. We crossed and navigated through back roads as fast as we could to make the meeting. At the Kurd lines, however we were told that without special permission we could not cross. We felt defeated, but I decided to praise God for this and all things. I had to force my self to do it that but did it. I then appealed to the local commander who said again, “There is no way without a permit.” I did not know what else to do so I said ,”I will pray to God for a way.” We all prayed in front of the commander and when we were finished he said, “I am a Christian too.”
I asked. ‘Why did you do that”? He told us that he had been interested for a while and then met with one of our local Christian friends who led him to follow Jesus. “He is our friend too”, I said when I learned his name and it is this friend that we need to meet today.” The commander smiled and said since you are his friend too I will ask my leaders to make an exception so that you can go now! We thanked him and God and jumped back into our Land Cruiser and took off again for the meeting. We were on our seventh hour of driving when we finally arrived, but they had graciously changed plans so that we had a wonderful meeting. Muhammad the soldier spent time with this Christian team and told us, “People are so nice here because of Jesus. I love Jesus.”
We visited their operations before the end of the meeting, and it was good to be back at this place of world class medical treatment, love and prayer. Lives are saved daily by the staff here and all in Jesus name. One of their leaders wrapped up our meeting with a retelling of the Easter story, starting with, “…the soldiers went to the tomb and saw it was empty and reported…the solders saw the empty tomb first…”! They were witnesses and there was no body because Jesus was alive. Later, people met with Jesus and He left us all the words, “Go to all the nations and make disciples, baptizing them in the name the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And, behold I am with you always until the end of the age.” Jesus brought us to Iraq and on this day we saw Him in action in so many ways.
We drove back as fast as we could. We previously planned to have an Easter sunrise service and Good Life Club program the next day with our team back in our position on the west side. Sahale, Sue, and Peter were also looking forward to riding their newly borrowed horse, a beautiful stallion. This stallion was a local villager’s whose village was liberated from ISIS by the unit we were with.
We got back to the bridge after dark only to find that it too had been swept away by the same flood that took out the first bridge. Now, we were stuck and our plans seemed stymied. We prayed and scouted for how to cross and made plans to make a raft to cross the next morning. We called our team back on the east side and asked for some of them to bring another Landcruiser as we would have to leave ours on the east side after we crossed. We needed a boat but could not find one so planned to build a raft in order to move our team and gear, but the process would be very slow. There would be no way to be back to our base in time to do the planned Easter program. We all curled up on the cold floor of a little hut by the river and tried to sleep. With no blankets it was very cold and we passed a long night with no sleep and the roar of the flooding river nearby. The next morning was Easter Sunday and so even though we wanted to get right on finding a way across the river, we went down to the edge of the river to thank God for Jesus first and celebrate Easter. We sang, “He lives” in English and Karen and shared what Easter meant to each of us. It all came down to Jesus being alive in our hearts and filling our hearts with such overflowing love that it makes us want to cry sometimes. The forgiveness, acceptance, fellowship, and pure of love of Jesus fills our hearts in a way none other does. We are humbled that while we are sinners and often small minded and mean to God and people, God still loves us and sent His son to live and die for us, and to live on with us. His resurrection on Easter is the action that ignites our faith. Jesus rising again gives us assurance, hope, joy, and power to live for Him.
In our closing prayer we thanked God for His gift of Jesus and I also asked, “… and God, in our Easter basket can we also have a boat?”
As we finished praying, suddenly a boat crossed the river. We all said, “Thank you Lord and lets go Rangers .” As the river was still very swift and treacherous, the boat could only land a kilometer downstream with us so we hurried down to it.
At the river we made friends with the boat driver named Sultan and offered to pay him to take us across. He agreed and we did our best to keep the boat from flipping in the fast and muddy current. The engine quit once but then started again and we made it across. We thanked and paid Sultan and linked up with some our team who had come down the west side with materials to build a raft and extract us.
With their help, we got back to our base three hours later and in time for the kids to ride and do a program with the local people there. It was a blessed day and that night when it was over we got news that topped off a wonderful Easter. Eliya came back from visiting a woman with a stroke he had been treating. “She can now move her arm on her own and speak a little!”, he exclaimed. They lady had had a stroke when ISIS was in her village and was paralyzed on one side of her body. She could not talk or walk. She had been brought in a few days earlier in a wheel chair. Eliya had examined her and we prayed for her. Eliya told her that due to her good reaction to the neurological exam he gave her, she could possibly recover some of her mobility if she did physical therapy every day. He taught her and her husband some exercises to do and we prayed with her. I gave her a MP 3 player of the Bible in Arabic. As soon as she heard the words on the MP 3 player she smiled widely. I also gave her the gospel of John in Arabic and both she and her husband began to read it together.
Still she could not get up, speak or move her left arm or leg. Now, on Easter night Eliya had gone to check on her again and gave her Vitamin B1 to improve her healing. Eliya said her husband told him that she was doing the prescribed exercises each day and was a little better. With Eliya’s encouragement she raised her hand by herself and then to everyone’s amazement was able to stand up. She could not stay up very long but this was the first time she had spoken, moved her right hand or stood up since the stroke. I said to Eliya, “Eliya, Thank God! Thank you too. I love you! And on Easter too! Look at all the things that happened today, I am so glad and thank God. What was a continual series of obstacles and changed plans ended up exceeding all our hopes with new relationships, joy and healing together.
Throughout the time we were moving from our position to the meeting and back, the verse; “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord,” was on my mind. But I had to choose to believe it and to praise God even when things looked bleak and did not go our way. In the end, God redeemed all of it and His way was far better than ours. As the sun set after the Good Life Club program, the kids and I took turns galloping and running along side the stallion five miles back from our position to where we had borrowed it. Our new friend was there beaming with pleasure as Sue and horse came prancing in with us running behind.
It was now dark but our hearts were full of light and joy.
Thank you for being with us in the mission here, we love you!
God bless you, Dave, family and teams
(P.S. As I typed this Muhammad came up to me and said, “I have decided to follow Jesus and He is in my heart.”)