Amidst Fear and War, Four Stories of Faith and Survival
26 October 2018
Iraq and Syria
Recently I was inspired by the stories of two Syrian Christians when they shared how Jesus changed their lives, even in the midst of very difficult situations. I was inspired to share those stories with you, as well as some other stories of Jesus’s saving work – both soul and body – that we’ve seen here in the Middle East. Some names have been changed for security purposes.
Thank you and God bless you,
It was May 2017 and the Battle of Mosul was in its 7th month. ISIS was being slowly pushed into its last corner, and lashing out viciously as they became more desperate. The headlines showed victory in sight, but each person on the ground, soldiers and civilians alike, knew it was a victory they might not live to see. The Iraqi forces, doing their best to preserve the lives of civilians, were fighting house-to-house and street-by-street and losing men daily, even as they liberated hiding and terrified families along the way.
Lt. Amir was one of these soldiers on the ground, leading his men from one house to the next. Our team followed, providing medical support for the soldiers and civilians. On this day there was a lull in the fighting and Amir and I had been sitting on a curb near a blown-up car for just a few minutes when three ISIS fighters exploded around the corner, just seven meters away, shooting and shouting. Lt. Amir was immediately shot six times while I was hit in the arm. We were able to push ISIS back, drag him off the street, stop the bleeding and evacuate him. He had sustained three wounds to the chest, two to his left arm and one in the left leg.
He survived, and one doctor told him, “I have never seen anyone survive wounds like this, only God could have helped you.”
Later, he found out his first daughter was born as he was on the operating table. He now has a son also and is continuing to recover from his wounds. We were able to see him in February of 2018 in a joyful reunion. At that time he said, “God had his hand on me that day. He saved me to do something.”
Before he was wounded, and afterwards, we had talked together about Jesus and I encouraged him to pray to Jesus for anything. We also gave him a Bible in Arabic. Last month he sent me an email saying, “Dear father, thank you for introducing me to the religion of Christ. I am reading the Bible now.” We met again on our latest mission to Iraq and he told us, “Now Jesus is in my heart. I am happy. I try to follow Him. I have to be careful because if people in my area find out, they will kill me. But I will keep following Jesus.”
Amir is the second Iraqi soldier I know from the battle of Mosul who came to Jesus.
Ali was our Iraqi Army Humvee driver, a 30-year-old soft-spoken career soldier who had joined the army when he was 18. His wife was a widow, her first husband killed by al-Qaeda, along with her father. He had known a life of war and when we met, the first thing he said to me was, “Please. I want to go to America.”
We worked alongside him and his unit from December 2016, as the fighting moved first through the east side of Mosul then around and to the west side and finally into the old city. In February of 2017, the army was fighting through the desert south of the city, and Ali decided to give his life to Jesus. He said, “Your [team’s] love for others, your mercy and your help made me love Christianity.”
The most vicious fighting was yet to begin. On May 4th, we were with the Iraqi Army as they began to push into the densely packed central part of the city, helping evacuate and treat civilians fleeing through the no-man’s-land between ISIS and the Iraqis. As families ran for their lives, ISIS snipers picked them off – men, women and children alike. A father and daughter were hit, and went down in the road; our Humvee, driven by Ali, went to get them. As we loaded the wounded two, our vehicle was critically hit and incapacitated.
I called on the radio for help but ISIS was launching a counter-attack and I got no immediate response. Ali said, “I will go.”
I said, “No, wait, you’ll get killed.” As I radioed again for help, his door opened; I lunged across the Humvee yelling at him to stop but his jacket slipped through my fingers as he bolted out and sprinted up the road through ISIS fire to get help. Minutes later he was back with another Humvee.
Shaheen, our translator, was in the back seat with Slowly, one of our medics, and they both jumped out to begin the evacuation of our two desperately wounded patients. Immediately, they were both hit – Slowly was hit in his equipment and immediately jumped back into the cover of the vehicle, uninjured, while Shaheen was hit in the stomach and went down. Ali saw his friend fall and ran to him, again through ISIS fire, carried him back the Humvee and evacuated him. This time, Ali was hit – six times. With one hand on his neck to stop the flow of blood from one wound there, he drove back to where our ambulance was and both he and Shaheen were evacuated – first to a local clinic and later to Baghdad.
Shaheen survived for 10 days with multiple surgeries but then died from a sudden blood infection. ALi lived but still has a bullet fragment in his neck. He has left the Iraqi Army and works for us now.
Later, he would find out that around the time he was shot, Jesus came to his sister in Baghdad in a vision: He told her, “It is ok, I have your brother.” Ali was baptized in the Tigris in February this year, one year after he first came to love Jesus.
New Faith in Syria
Baran is a 20-year-old Christian Kurd from Afrin, in northwest Syria. When the Turkish Army and Muslim militias invaded Afrin, 35,000 Yezidi and 3,000 Christians fled the brutal invasion and follow-on implementation of Sharia law. Baran, his mother, his pregnant sister and her husband all fled to Kobani, a Kurdish-controlled town in northeast Syria. Their sick father and three other Christian families who could not flee stayed behind. We helped Baran and his mother move to Kurdistan and it was there that they told us their stories of meeting Jesus.
Baran’s story: “I was a Muslim and I am only a new believer in Jesus. What happened was that Jesus began to appear to me in dreams. They were visions. He talked to me and asked me to follow him. This has changed everything in my life. I feel Him in my heart and He helps me. I pray to Jesus all the time and I have a new life. In spite of all the bad things that have happened I have a joy in my heart because of Jesus.”
Wahida is Baran’s mother. This is her story: “Jesus came to me in a dream and I felt His love. He told me to go to church. I woke up and thought about meeting Jesus in my dream but I did not do as He told me. I did not go to church. Then, a month later, Jesus appeared to me again. ‘Why didn’t you do as I asked you? Go to church,’ He said. This time I obeyed and I went to church. That was the beginning of a new life for me. Now I feel happy, free and I know Jesus loves me and helps me in my many troubles.
We lost our home, all our belongings and our livelihood when we were driven out of Afrin. Worse than that, my husband is a captive there. He is a doctor and they are using him to take care of their sick and wounded. They are Islamic terrorists and we don’t know why they have been allowed to take over. “
As she told us this story, she stopped talking and began to cry softly. “I miss my husband so much and worry for him. He is sick and needs help. I feel a sadness in me and for all we have lost. In the midst of this sadness Jesus sustains me and gives me hope. Thank you for helping us and for praying for us.”
Dear reader, thank you for reading these stories. They inspired me to bear witness to what I have seen Jesus do in my own life. Jesus gives me more love for people and during the battle of Mosul, He rescued me from hatred for ISIS followers that was masquerading in me as justice. He taught me the only way to find justice is through love – that without love, true wisdom is impossible. Whenever I stop and ask Jesus for His way in any situation, He helps me overcome my selfishness, my anger at others’ injustices to me, and my pride.
He has changed my heart again and again and helped me make friends with people who misunderstood us as well as enemies who wanted to attack us. For me, standing with people under attack, giving medical and other humanitarian care and putting a light on the situation is good. But I always want to share how real Jesus is to me, how He changes my life and how anyone can call on Jesus to help them.