I'm going to be a bit vague on here, because it's a public forum and all, but I want you all to hear the story of how I got a chance to put some actions to my words.
As regular readers of my blog and Facebook are well aware, I have been talking a lot about the refugee crises that are occurring due to conflicts in the Middle East, especially conflicts caused by the Islamic State. One aspect in particular which has concerned me is the enslavement of Yazidi and Christian women and girls by Islamic State fighters. Girls as young as nine-years-old have been sold off as sex slaves or forced to convert to Islam and "married" off. Many girls and young women have committed or attempted suicide to escape. Additionally, even those who escaped are suffering depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from what they have seen, such as hundreds of men killed for refusing to convert to Islam when the Islamic State invaded the Yazidi region of northern Iraq.
While I was in the States, I had a meeting with an old friend who is now the Global and Local Mission Pastor of a church in Oregon. I knew that they had connections to a ministry in northern Iraq, but he shared a lot more detail about the family who is working there and how they are serving refugees, especially Yazidis. He mentioned that he had visited five times in the past year, taking teams from their church. I asked about future trips, and he mentioned one coming up in November and one next March. I asked about prenatal care and where women deliver babies and who assists them, but he didn't really know the answer. (I expect it is a tradition of untrained midwives similar to the one that developed in East African villages.)
I talked to Fred about the opportunity to travel, and he was very supportive of me joining one of these teams, especially the one in November which would be easier on our schedule as a family than next March. I couldn't imagine raising all the money within 5-6 weeks, though, so we made it a matter of prayer. Then the pastor emailed me that he would cover all my expenses on the ground if I could get myself to Iraq by November 1st! I looked up airfare, and it was about $750, which seemed very reasonable to raise that money within a few weeks.
This opportunity came up just as I was wrapping up my trip to America, so I was a bit slow to get the word out. This week I put the fundraiser up on Facebook, and within a few hours had the amount I needed for airfare...so I thought. When I went to check the prices, they had skyrocketed. Several hours of research on excruciatingly slow internet led me to a ticket for $1,120, so I had to go back to fundraising again. I put the bad news on Facebook and went to bed sad and wondering if I had been wrong about this opportunity. When I woke up, over $1,500 had been donated!
Some of those who donated have been my friends since I was three years old. One was a complete stranger. Many give regularly to support our work, and at least one couple lives overseas on financial support themselves. I really thank God for such a supportive and kind community of friends.
Now for some FAQ:
Q: Is it really safe?
It is as safe as where we live now. The Islamic State is blocked from the area where we will be by geological features that my pastor friend compared to "the Grand Canyon." Of course one can never be assured of absolute safety anywhere in the world (even a community college classroom), but I'm assured that this area is very safe.
Q: Aren't you afraid?
I really try not to live in fear (except of mice...can't seem to kick that fear). In the worst case scenario, should something awful happen, I am confident that I will be in the center of God's will for me. I believe that God can use my life or my death, whether it's violent and unexpected or quietly after a long life, to further the Kingdom of Heaven. I would hate to leave my children and husband, but better that than to live in fear, not following where Jesus is leading.
Q: What will you do there?
I don't know 100% of what I'll be doing, but my hope is meet women and hear their stories. I would like to be able to hear about their birth culture and what challenges they face in pregnancy and delivery of babies in a refugee camp in a war zone. I would also like to encourage and bless the missionaries who are living there in any way I can, including sharing the 10 lbs. of chocolate chips that we were blessed with.
Q: How will you spend the extra money that was donated?
I plan to travel to the city of Mwanza in a few days and purchase some of the materials that we use in hygienic birth kits for expectant mothers and those who are delivering babies. I don't know if I will have an opportunity to distribute those things directly or hand them off to a local health official or to the missionaries, but I want to have them with me, just in case. Anything else left over I'll take in cash for unexpected expenses or to help meet needs on the ground.
Q: Will you be blogging?
YES. I don't know what the internet situation will be like, so I don't know for certain if I'll be updating the blog while I'm there, but I will certainly be taking heaps of notes and some photos and journaling so that I can share the experience with all of you. (Gosh, people, hold me to the photo thing. You all know how awful I about taking pictures!)
Q: How can we pray?
I covet your prayers for my preparations, both physical and spiritual, during a very busy next three weeks. Please pray that I will be full of wisdom, peace, hope and love to share with those I encounter, as well as patience for the processes. Most of all, please pray for the people in these camps and who are suffering from displacement, insecurity, and physical or emotional harm or threat.