Fourteen of us just spent a week in Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq. It is a city inundated with refugees from ISIS. It was our third trip there in a year. We screened well over 100 children for congenital heart disease. We performed diagnostic and therapeutic heart catheterizations on 20 children. We performed surgery on another five. I believe the majority of our patients were refugees. For the first time, we were able to bring team members with us who volunteered in some of the refugee camps. One camp alone had 60,000 occupants. There is a level of tragedy and evil that the people of this region have and continue to endure that is hard to comprehend or explain. It can easily become overwhelming.
With our first procedural trip to Dohuk last year, our church, Calvary Chapel South Maui, started supporting us with prayer teams called the NEST (Necessary Encouraging, Spiritually Transforming). Members are assigned one day to submit an email prayer on our behalf and, as much as possible, we share with them daily updates and prayer requests. This prayer support has transformed our trips. All of us involved have seen tangible evidence of the power of prayer. As Moses needed Aaron and Hur to uphold his arms so the Israelites would prevail against Amalek in Exodus 17, we have come to need and depend on their prayers to uphold us through these spiritually, emotionally, and physically exhausting weeks. We had four NEST teams supporting us this time. They were boldly praying for and believing in miracles this week. We commonly say on these trips that you don’t see a miracle unless you need a miracle. We need lots of miracles to do what we do with limited supplies under austere conditions and we see them all the time. The greatest miracle I could imagine, however, is for these patients and their families to actually see a vision of Jesus.
One of the local volunteers who helped us this week literally did. He came to faith and was fundamentally changed by this experience…and he could not be contained from talking about it. I wish I could explain the smile, the glow on his face, and the enthusiasm with which he shared his story and how it motivated everything he did. That was why he was there with us this week, tirelessly helping late into the evening as we screened child after child after our procedures were done, wanting to facilitate our taking care of these children, so we could share Jesus with them and their families.
It is a hard thing sharing our faith with the barriers of limited time and language. We do offer to pray with the families before the procedures. We explain that one of the names of Jesus is the Great Physician and that we rely on the Him to heal as we treat. Besides sharing our faith by our actions of lovingly taking care of these children, this is often the only way we get to verbally share why we are there. When we returned after an intervention trip to Iraq in 2010, one of our patient’s fathers said, “I cannot stop thinking of the God who heals.” He came to belief in Christ because of that simple prayer.
There is a painting I love of an operating room scene where Jesus is standing behind the surgeon, looking on. I love that vision of what Jesus told us in Matthew 18:20 to be true: “For where two or three have gathered together in my Name, I am there in their midst.” The bold prayers of our NEST team, the vision of Jesus our volunteer related, the power of a prayer bringing a father to Christ, and the vision of that painting with Jesus in the operating room inspired my prayers for the week. I envisioned Him in our midst and I prayed that those around us who don’t know Him yet would see Him.
I actually dreaded writing this update. I’ve recounted many times in these updates my struggles on these trips. I still struggle. If there is encouragement for you in knowing that I’m not brave and I get tired and cranky, yet I travel and serve anyway, please be encouraged. But I confess I’m a little tired of it in myself. I actually wondered and prayed all week “why am I that person?” Why aren’t I the person who is excited and energized and enthusiastic about this calling and this service? Why do I battle my flesh so greatly? There is a true and beautiful reward to obedience and I am always glad I went on a trip, but is that all I have to share…again? As I was praying about this on the last morning in Iraq, I heard the admonition “focus on Jesus.” I realized by how He had called me to pray that was what the Lord had been trying to get me to do all week.
It’s so easy to get our focus wrong. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Focus on Jesus. There is true evil in this place. It is horrific and incredibly hard to understand or even to know about. Focus on Jesus. There is evil, but there is light in the darkness. There are people coming to love and serve. And in the midst of tragedy, people are coming to faith in Christ in the Middle East like never before. Focus on Jesus.
Kirk shared in a sermon on John 4 at church the week before we left how a royal official came to Jesus asking Him to come to his house and heal his son, who was at the point of death. Verse 50 says “Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son lives.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.” He went home and found that at the very moment Jesus spoke, his son was healed…and he and his entire household came to believe in Jesus as the Christ. But, as Kirk pointed out, the man’s son had to become sick to the point of death in order for that father and his household to come to faith. “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways’, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). There is very little hope for the people suffering in the Middle East without the perspective that there is a God and He is good and we were made for eternity where He will make all things right:
‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelievers and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death’ (Revelation 21:3-4, 6-8).
But the only way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6) and how will they know unless they are told (Romans 10:14-15), or unless they see Him?
One of our NEST members encouraged us with Matthew 4:16: “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.” She prayed that as our volunteers walked into these dark refugee camps, they would light it up! The Bible tells us in Matthew 5 that as followers of Jesus we “are the light of the world” and we should let our “light shine before men in such a way that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven.” We do not have to try to be light. We are light. And we are servants of the Light of the world (John 8:12). The world is evil. But we know the Light. Focus on Jesus…and wherever you are called to go in this dark world, light it up!