As usual, I (Kim) am writing this as Kirk and I are en route home. A team of five of us (Kirk, me, Mary Porisch MD, Maria Garcia MD, and Anita Rich RN) went to Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq to conduct thirteen pediatric heart catheterizations and screen well over 100 children for congenital heart disease. This is the message I most want to share: we are not heroes.
If you read these updates, you know that I’ve confessed before and will continue to confess my weaknesses. I like comfort. Kirk calls me a hobbit. I like to be warm, well rested, and well fed. I am not courageous. I wish I could tell you I am a willing servant. I can tell you I’m an obedient servant. These trips don’t excite me. They exhaust me. Our recurring team motto for For Hearts and Souls trips is “pay your own way, be exhausted, get sick…come back anyway.” It brings tears to my eyes to think how many people have done just that with us over the years, to places like Mongolia, Kosovo, and Iraq. They use their vacation, they pay their own way, they exhaust themselves, and they usually do get sick (although, praise God, maybe for the first time ever, no one got sick this time…I credit the many prayers on our behalf)…and they do it again and again and again. Our team this time was no exception. They were all veterans.
Nelia Soares RN is one of our veterans who was supposed to go with us this time but was unable to because of personal circumstances. She was with us in spirit, though, faithfully praying for us and sending us encouraging messages. She wrote to us:
During my past trips, there have been times I question why I am doing this to my body? I ask at the end of the week, with sleep deprivation, jet lag, pure exhaustion, not eating well, not having all the resources I am accustomed to, why do I keep coming back? What is it about hearing about another mission that ignites my inner passion? I am pretty sure all of you understand what I am talking about. If this is your first medical mission trip, this will make sense to you about day number 2 when you are looking for paper towels again to dry your hands:-)
Here is what I have come up with as one major reason I keep coming back: it makes me happy. Pure and simple. Maybe not the happiest while I am actually on the trip, but the reason it makes me happy is because it is hard work that not just anyone can do. It is physically taxing on my body, it is emotionally draining, sometimes frustrating, exhausting with jet lag and the list goes on. But it makes me happy. Why? Well, other than the obvious of helping children, being with my mission friends, impacting medical program development, and being an example of God’s love for others no matter where in the world, the happiness that follows from a difficult week brings intense joy that I do not feel by my “normal” every day happiness. It is a different type of intense joy that cannot be replaced ever.
For me, the joy is in the obedience. I don’t want that to sound like pride. I’m not proud that I obey. I obey and God, as good as He is, rewards me with joy. I think the older I get and the more trips I’ve gone on, the more I dread them. I know going in that I am going to be exhausted to the point of misery. But it is not long into every trip where I come to the realization, once again, that without a doubt I’m supposed to be there and it’s all part of the Lord’s process of continuing to teach and refine me.
That realization came on arrival in Duhok. I had been on call the night before I left so only got short, interrupted sleep. Then we travelled for 48 hours with more short, interrupted sleep. We arrived at our hotel at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and had 5 hours before we were going to start our week. I was longing for those 5 hours for a nap and a shower…and they started to be whittled away. The power went out in the first room they showed us to, as well as the second. As I waited in the cold second room while they decided on a third room, I turned on the water and it was cold. I understand there are people, like Kirk, who can observe they are tired and cold and not be excessively bothered by it. For me, it is physically painful. I hate it with every fiber of my being. As I saw my nap and shower evaporating by circumstances and delays, I saw the week stretching out ahead with no relief from the tiredness or the cold. And then I thought of the literally thousands of ISIS refugees literally miles from me living in the cold, with no warm showers, and no relief in sight….and, once again, I knew. I had to be there.
We all have roles. Some are called to stay and support and pray. Some are called to go long-term. I thank the Lord for the many we know who now live and serve in Iraq. We couldn’t do what we do without them. And some are called to go short-term. I’m called to go because I need to learn again and again how to die to my fleshly desire for comfort. We did have a warm hotel room and hot showers. I suffered in cold for 10 minutes and nearly panicked. I need to learn again and again compassion and understanding for those who suffer not just for a week or 10 minutes but for extended periods, both at home and abroad. I’m called to go because I need to learn again and again how extraordinarily blessed I am. I have the freedom and the resources to go, and I have the freedom and the resources to leave again at the end of the week. I’m called to go because it encourages those I come in contact with. It encourages and helps the long-term missionaries (one of the things we are most thankful for on this trip is learning there is a long-term medical clinic being established based on relationships we have forged on our short-term trips) and, most importantly, it encourages the many I come in contact with who are enduring conditions most Americans cannot imagine.
The central government is not reliably funding the budget for the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq where we were. Kurdistan has oil it can use to raise revenue, but oil prices are down. The doctors and staff said conditions there are very hard. Most hadn’t been paid in months, but they continue to show up to work. The Ministry of Health used to have the funds to support international medical teams to come help deliver medical care, but they no longer do and the teams that don’t fund themselves like ours have stopped coming. On all our previous trips there, electricity has been reliable, but this time it wasn’t, going on and off numerous times a day. And the area has been inundated with refugees. One camp alone has 50,000 Yazidis. We kept note of where our patients were coming from and many were from one refugee camp or another. Everyone has a story. They have lost loved ones, homes, possessions, and livelihoods. Countless have endured unspeakable horrors. And we were there to give them “a cup of cold water” (Matthew 10:42), to let them know they have not been forgotten, and to share with them that their Father in heaven loves them.
Finally, I’m called to go because I’m supposed to tell you about it. I’m supposed to tell you that I’m weak and selfish and scared and not at all heroic…but that I serve an incredibly big God. We get a lot of very well meaning advice about what we should and should not do. “You shouldn’t go there. It’s not safe.” Four of us on this trip have grown children. One has young children. She would not want to be held up as a hero either, but I am impressed and humbled by that level of faith and obedience on her and her husband’s part. She felt called to go. She went. Even in America, we’re starting to come to the increasing realization that no place is safe. I am convinced that no place is safe except the exact center of the will of God. The very hairs on our head are numbered (Luke 12:7). Our days were numbered before there was even one of them (Psalm 139:16). Worrying cannot add a single day to our life (Matthew 6:27). If God calls me to Iraq, He has a plan. As He continues to demonstrate, He is abundantly capable of protecting me and bringing me home. But, even if He doesn’t, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3), I cannot bow to comfort or safety. Do I think so highly of myself that I cannot endure for one week what many endure for a lifetime?
The important question is “what are you called to?” It’s not “is it safe?” or any other distracting question. I cannot answer that question for you any more than you can answer that question for me. But if you seek the Lord, He’ll tell you (Jeremiah 29:13). And I recommend you obey, for it is there that you will find your joy.