Hours to go

… until I leave this country that I have come to love.
This country and culture that is oddly somewhat normal to me now.
It doesn’t seem real, feels like pretend.

The past several days have been full of goodbyes. I hate them. Somehow there aren’t adequate words to depart from a friend turned family member whom I might never see again.

I feel numb towards it all. I’m not sure what else I can say and so I will leave you with a handful of ‘good-bye’ pictures:

With Shohan and Angel in our 'maxi' dresses

Braiding Emma's hair on Thanksgiving morning

Braiding Emma's hair on Thanksgiving morning

With Nageen (left) and her sister at a cafe

With Nageen (left) and her sister at a cafe

Sweet Suzan

Sweet Suzan

Trehan and Aria - a PLC kid

Trehan and Aria - a PLC kid

Brooke

Brooke

Samana and her 3 month baby Tnook

Samana and her 3 month baby Tnook

Kanar - the hardest good-bye is yet to come

Kanar - the hardest good-bye is yet to come

Hopefully these photos can describe what i’m at a loss for words to say. (A picture says a thousand of them right?)

There are so many more stories to tell. Please continue to read as I will be telling many more of them in the days to come.

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13 Things . . .

. . . that have happened since I last updated
Which, lets face it, has been awhile:

Today I got stuck in an elevator.
It was a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

PLC bought a new car.
I miss the Patrol (aka The Beast)
But thanking God for providing.

I rode the Sulaymaniyah bus.
Payment for the ride is driven by the honor system.
I’m convinced it would never work in America.

My friend, Sazgar, helped me pick out Gili Kurdi (traditional/festive Kurdish dress)
Don’t worry, pictures to come.

I experienced culture shock for the first time at a foreigner’s party.
50 people attended (Dutch, British, Irish, Australian . . . but mostly American)
I realized Americans are loud and a tad bit obnoxious.

I visited Sulaymaniyah University with Kanar and Shaza, two good friends.
I almost felt as though I was at an American university.

I learned to sing Happy Birthday in Kurdish.

Angel and I made oreo balls.
SO good.

I sat on the top floor of our house for hours watching a thunderstorm with the window open.
I’ve missed the rain.

I bought a piece of artwork from my good friend and talented artist, Ismail.

I’ve read 5 books:
Unshaken by Francine Rivers
Unveiled by Francine Rivers
The Shack by William P. Young
A Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
Crazy Love by Francis Chan

God has been teaching me a lot about faith and prayer
and even more about my pride.

AND 3 new kids are going to surgery in Turkey on Tuesday!!
I’ll introduce them in the next few days

Extreme Joy – Extreme Sorrow

I realize this post is WAY overdue. To be quite honest, I’ve been avoiding writing it. I feel as if I don’t have adequate words to give to you describing the events over the last two weeks. I’m praying even as I write this that the Lord will give me the words I need to say.

This is a very late update on the three precious boys PLC sent to surgery in Turkey over the last month: Meer (15 years), Ramyar (4 years), and Daryan (5 months).

Meer was in need of urgent surgery when we flew him to Turkey. His surgery was a little over a week ago. It was perfect and a full heart correction was performed. Meer will live. Praise the Lord! Last Tuesday he flew home to his family to Iraq. Meer will live a normal life, grow up, get married and have a family. . . and live.

Thanks so much for your support and prayers that make this possible.

Meer - Homeward Bound

Ramyar is the four-year-old boy we sent to Turkey with Meer just a few weeks ago.We love this little boy. His laugh is contagious. He is always joyful. He is so full of life.

Ramyar was sent home from Turkey shortly after arriving. At four-years-old he is already inoperable. We are praying for healing. . . begging for healing for this boy.Ramyar’s family came to our office a few days ago to have a post-Turkey meeting. It was so bitter-sweet seeing him. . . more bitter than sweet. We were able to play and laugh with him for a few hours. The joy of having him in our office and seeing him so happy quickly awoke me to the realization that death is chasing after him. Without surgery, Ramyar’s broken, weak heart will stop beating in a year maybe two.

Please pray for healing.

This is a video of him and Joshua (a fellow summer intern) playing that day. Ramyar LOVED watching himself being filmed on our Mac computers. The first part is Ramyar and Josh playing and the second part is the two taking pictures on my Macbook. I’ve never laughed this hard while at the same time wanting to weap so deeply.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Extreme Joy – Extreme Sorrow”, posted with vodpod

Daryan was sent to Turkey a little over a month ago with an extremely sick heart. We knew the odds weren’t good but hope seemed to prevail when he made it though surgery. “His heart is perfect,” Dr. Cicek told us. We thought all he needed was time for his lungs to grow strong enough.

Daryan put up such a tough fight. . . so much so that we all thought he would pull through. Four weeks he fought for his life in ICU while intubated. The fight was too tough, though. His body, too weak.

Daryan Selah lost the fight at 5:40 AM on September 4, 2009. I am at a loss for words as of what else to say. His family is in pain. His mother lost her firstborn son. His family lost a precious baby boy.

Daryan

What now?

What happens when the reality of life and death for these kids is too much to bare?

Watching these children who are so sick…

Watching these families who are desparately searching for any kind of hope…

So, what happens when the reality of a child’s death doesn’t seem to match up with the goodness of God?

“A crisis of faith comes when God’s dealing with us seem to contradict his essential goodness, and can be passed through only by trusting God, even though we do not understand” -Beverly Hicks

Seeing children be healed and hope restored.

Seeing children die and famlies crushed.

Extreme joy, extreme sorrow . . .

Turkey Bound

On Tuesday morning, the Preemptive Love Coalition was able to send two more kids to surgery because of generous contributions to our organization! So exciting! Let’s meet them shall we?

Meer

This is Meer. Fifteen years old, he is one of the oldest kids PLC has sent to Istanbul, Turkey for heart surgery. Meer’s case is particularly urgent. He should have had this life-saving procedure years ago.  Also because of his age, he is able to understand what is about to happen to him. Meer’s surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.

Please be praying for peace for him and his family and pray for wisdom and guidance for Dr. Cicek (the pediatric cardiologist who preforms the heart surgeries in Turkey).

Ramyar

This precious little four year old boy is Ramyar. We met him just a few short weeks ago when his family came to visit our Iraq office. His family was able to collect all the things needed to send him to surgery (i.e. passports, echos, paperwork) in about two weeks. Amazingly enough, all of this usually takes months. Ramyar is borderline inoperable. In Turkey, diagnostic tests will be performed to determine if he is a candidate for surgery. These tests will determine if his little heart can handle surgery or if it is too late.

I don’t understand all the logistics of these complicated surgeries, but pray that Dr. Cicek finds what he needs to in the preliminary tests, that this child has a chance at a long, healthy life.

You can follow these kids over the next few weeks on The Preemptive Love Coalition Blog. You can also follow on Twitter ( Meer’s Twitter Page and Ramyar’s Twitter Page )

Also, I would ask you to keep praying for baby Daryan. Daryan is about five months old. He was sent to surgery in Turkey with the last group of kids, almost a full month ago. Despite staggering odds, he survived surgery. His heart is completely healthy, completely corrected, and in essence, perfect. However, his little lungs are not yet strong enough to control the increase in blood pressure. Daryan has been intubated and in ICU for the past four weeks (1/5th of his short life) on several drugs hoping his blood vessels will dilate enough to support his tiny little life. Dr. Cicek said that it is now a waiting game. Pray for healing.

This video of Daryan was taken in the few days following his heart surgery:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

Iraq Update: Chwar (4) + a VERY special announcement!

Greetings friends. I’m so sorry it has been so long since I’ve updated you on the happenings in Iraq. This post is way overdue!

The past few weeks have been a whirl of planning, projects and the beginning of the end of the summer. My main projects have been graphic design work for some local fundraising here in Suly and helping plan a banquet for all of the children who have had heart surgery this year. I have so much respect for event planners now! I also forget how not knowing the local language makes things at least twice as complicated. One of the other interns and I had planned to get the invitation for the banquet designed and printed one morning last week. My initial thought was that it would only take us one hour, maybe two at tops, because of how long it takes in America. Two hours soon turned into an all day affair! We didn’t factor in that our invitations, written in English, would not be understood by the Kurdish families (cue: slapping my palm against my forehead). We met with PLC’s translator and had him translate our invitation. Then I realized… I don’t have an Arabic font on my computer! So, we had to find a place to type it up for us. Hold on though, we have to find a place to type it up for us with someone that speaks ENGLISH. After about an hour of searching, we finally found an internet café that could type and print up a copy of the invitation text in Kurdish. Whew, this part took the majority of the morning. The afternoon was spent with our translator scouring the Bazaar for a print shop that would print on cardstock. Two hours and a few cantaloupe smoothies later… we have our invitations. Success! (update: after all was said and done and printed and delivered to families

we realized somewhere in the process the time and date of the party were left off the invite. Haha oh Iraq!)

It seems that lately PLC has run into some major walls. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours.

Issue number one… Buy Shoes Save Lives is one of PLC’s main sources of fund raising. In Kurdistan there is a traditional hand-made shoe that most Kurds wear called Klash. Every part of the shoe is hand made, from the sole to the hand stitched top, taking approximately 30 hours for each shoe. (http://preemptivelove.org/bssl/klash/) Part of PLC’s vision for Iraq is to find local solutions for local problems. So, PLC buys the shoes from the local Klash makers and sells them all over the world. Proceeds go back into the community to fund the heart surgeries. Until about two weeks ago, the general consensus was that the entire shoe was made here in Iraq and for about 5% of Klash shops, we’ve recently discovered, this is true. However, 95% of Klash makers in Iraq only make the hand stitched top and import the sole of the shoe from Iran. Even this would be okay besides the fact that it is illegal to import anything made in Iran to the United States. So, we are back to the drawing board. BSSL is what PLC was founded on in the beginning and it is not a part of the organization PLC wants to loose. Pray that PLC is able to figure out a solution to this problem.

Issue number two… The Patrol. All 7 long term staff of PLC share one vehicle… a Nissan Patrol. When they were first looking for a car to buy, they needed something inexpensive, reliable and a vehicle that could easily travel the uncertain Iraqi terrain. They were blessed with the Patrol. However, recent news has revealed the origin of this beastly car. During Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, the vehicle his soldiers used was one that was durable and reliable… yes, the Nissan Patrol. Almost every Patrol currently in northern Iraq belonged to the government prior to Hussein’s downfall.  After Saddam was captured, people literally raided all of the government property and took what they wanted, then sold it. So, BASICALLY that means PLC, without knowing, probably bought a stolen car. Legally, this car still belongs to the government even though it was bought and paid for by the Preemptive Love Organization. PLC is currently seeking out how in which to gain legal ownership of the car, but until then the Patrol could be taken away from us at any time. If that weren’t enough, a new law was passed that makes it close to impossible for foreigners to obtain driving permits. Again, PLC is trying to legally find a way in order to get licenses but until then, our Kurdish translator will do most, if not all, of the driving. This puts a major damper on many operations.

Issue number 3… We have been working most of the summer on a local advertising campaign called Tip Jars. The idea was to put money boxes at local grocery stores with a huge poster about our organization in a way to increase awareness and community involvement. We got the money jars built. I designed the posters. We sent the posters off to the print shops. We got the grocery stores okay. Then, found out that we need a license?!? A license to put up a poster and glass box in a store. Doesn’t make sense to me but I guess it’s a good idea to follow the law of the land. The license will take several months to obtain, as it seems all things take time here. It’s good that the campaign will be put into action at some point. Just much much later than we expected.

Issue number 4… At the end of the summer (aka about a week) PLC will be changing completely as far as staff go. Not only will the interns be heading back to the US, most of the PLC team will be leaving as well. As PLC has grown and funding increases, the ability to send more kids to surgery is upon us. However, each time a group of kids is sent to surgery, someone from the full time staff has to go along with them to Turkey. Costs increase with sending PLC staff and throws the organization off balance when someone is out of the office for two weeks up to a month. PLC has decided to relocate one couple to Turkey to set up a base there. It is going to be really good to have a base in Turkey since the actual surgery is in Istanbul. So, one couple will be leaving Iraq along with the interns in a very short period of time. Another PLC couple will be heading back to the US in the fall to have their first baby! And PLC’s physical therapist will most likely be moving to another city in Iraq for various reasons. So, this leaves one family to run all of the organization by themselves in the fall. I know that they are overwhelmed with this task. And not only that, but living in a culture that is not your own is difficult and draining and one needs community and support to be able to maintain sanity. Please be praying for all of the full time staff as their lives will be dramatically changing very soon. And on that note…

CUE SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT… drum roll please… I would like to announce that I, along with two other interns, have been asked to stay until December. The PLC team presented this to me several weeks ago and I have thought and prayed a lot about it. I don’t think my time is over here. I have began to develop amazing relationships with several Kurds here and I don’t think it is time for those friendships to come to an end. I think God has so much more planned for me here as I am starting to see hearts softened and trust built with people here. Also, the three of us interns could offer much help in running the organization and meeting with all of the families this fall when the one family will be here alone. This summer I haven’t been able to do as much design work for PLC as I’ve wanted and as PLC has wanted me to do. We have had many commitments this summer and most have them have seemed higher in priority than design work. This fall my commitment level would be so much different. One of the guys that is staying is a photographer and he and I will be working together on many projects. I know this is where I am suppose to be and have such a peace about being here. And so… I’M STAYING UNTIL DECEMBER!

With that comes many challenges that I wasn’t expecting when I left the states almost two months ago. First of all, I wasn’t planning on saying good bye to my friends and family for six months. I already miss them and miss being in Texas. I don’t think I have fully come into the realization that I will not see them until Christmas. I will not be with my family for the first time in my life during Thanksgiving. The reality of this all has not hit me yet and I don’t think it will until all the other interns have left. Please just pray for my heart that I will keep in perspective why I am here. Also, my Kurdish is HORRIBLE and I’m not just being modest. I have not learned as much of the language as I would have liked. I can barely communicate with people here who do not know English. Since I am staying, this has to change. I have to be able to talk to families that I will be going on visits to. I won’t always have the luxury of having PLC staff member to translate for me. I will be going on many visits with only the other girl intern, who doesn’t know Kurdish either. As soon as the other interns leave, the other two interns and I will have an intense few weeks on language learning with one of PLC’s local translators. Other languages do not come easy to me. I think I studied Spanish for about four years in school and now can only say a little more in Spanish than I can in Kurdish. Pray for grace for me to learn this language and an ability to understand and retain it. Also, funds are an issue. I will be working teaching English at a local institute during the fall. This job will pay for a lot of my living expenses but not all. I will also be teaching gymnastics to some of the American kids who live here. I am probably most excited about that job. It will help a little with expenses as well. But I will still be about $2500 dollars short. I know God will provide. He brought me here and He will not withdraw and leave me out in the cold. I know this and I am completely at peace that He will provide, but please pray that God will just guide wherever the money is suppose to come from.

I am so sorry that I haven’t updated everyone in so long. Things are going so well here. Some days are so easy and wonderful and I love it. Others are more difficult as it is so exhausting living in a culture I still don’t understand and frustrating to have such a language barrier. But God is so good. I have learned this in such a new and real way since being in Iraq. I have realized how much bigger his picture is and His will is than I could have ever imagined while living in my comfortable American bubble. More than anything I have done since being in Iraq, God has began changing me and my heart all the more. I am so so grateful to be here and to be able to experience amazing things half way around the world. I feel so very blessed that the Lord would bring me here and reveal Himself to me in such a new way and reveal the love He has for His people… not just for our country but the WHOLE world. Thank you for supporting me. There is no way I could be here without your financial support and especially your prayers. I don’t think I can say that enough. I wish I could bring you all here to experiencing what I am getting to experience.

Prayers:

Pray for Buy Shoes. Save Lives.

Pray for PLC’s vehicle situation.

Pray for the Tip Jar campaign.

Pray for each person that is leaving in about a week, the interns along with full-time staff. Pray for the staff and the interns that are staying in the fall that this transition will be good for everyone. That no one would get discouraged but that we would remember that God’s strength and power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

Pray for my heart as I try to refocus for the next few months. I don’t know what to think about it at all; I don’t know how to process it. I just know I’m suppose to be here. Pray for my family as well. I know that was hard for some of them for me to go to Iraq for the summer. I can imagine that me staying for four more months might be difficult.

Pray that I am able to learn this language!

Pray that my money situation will work out. That God will provide.

Thanks again for your prayers. You are such a big part of what God is doing in Iraq! I you are enjoying your summer as it is beginning to wrap up.

Be blessed!

Iraq Update: Se (3)

This past week has been so busy including: an all-day picnic, my birthday, several English Clubs, and some emotional times for the PLC staff. For me, personally, I have also been working on several design projects. So, much to say, bare with me…
First off, I would like to say that I have a new found love… çay (chai) tea. It is as essential as water to the Kurds here. Comparing tea here to tea in America is like comparing Starbucks to instant coffee. There is NO comparison. The average Kurd probably drinks 8 to 15 cups of çay in any given day. It is served morning and night, at every meal, during guest visits and just about any other time a person sits for more than 15 minutes. Tea here is an art form. The women spend their entire lives perfecting the tea recipe usually blending at least 7 different types of çay and adding spices. The outcome is indescribable! Tea is served in a specific çay glass and saucer. When served, ¼ of an inch of sugar is in the bottom of the glass and stirred to the coinsurer’s desire of sweetness, leaving the remaining sugar in the bottom of the glass. The gentle tinkling of çay being stirred is a beautiful melody and beyond description. Other than the decision of sweetness one must decide the process in which to drink the tea. The patient Kurd waits until the tea has cooled to drink from the glass but there is another art form of pouring the tea into the saucer to quickly cool and drinking straight from the saucer. Be careful, though, pouring takes practice. Pour too quickly and it splashes over the edge of the saucer; pour too slowly and the tea runs down the side of the glass making a embarrassing mess. (I have learned this first hand after pouring half of the tea into a puddle on the table. Needless to stay, I’ve resorted to the patient method.) All this to say, tea in Iraq = perfection.
As I am sitting here writing this, I can hear the Muslim call to pray echoing through the streets just as it does five times each day. Although it is a Muslim call, it reminds me all throughout the day to have an attitude of prayer. Funny that God has used something created for another religion to draw me closer to Himself. What an awesome God we serve.
Question: How would you explain grace to a culture where forgiveness is not practiced? How would you describe the need for said grace to a culture who doesn’t understand the concept of sin? These are the questions I am presently pondering.  The Muslim faith is very intriguing to me. Primarily, Islam preaches salvation by works. The Muslims believe that if their good outweighs the bad, they are rewarded with heaven. Therefore, people are extremely giving and honest and they believe that makes them good. Here, it is more about the outside appearance than the inside condition of the heart. Sin does not make sense… a Muslim would say ‘I haven’t lied, cheated, stolen, or killed. Therefore, I haven’t sinned’. On the other hand, if someone wrongs you in this culture, you have every right to do the equal to them. Forgiveness is not readily practiced. It is not understood. Part of me is at a loss for how to meet the people here on common ground and be able to explain concepts that are so vital to Christianity. It would be like trying to explain color to person that is blind. Where do you even begin? At the same time, the Bible says not to be afraid because God will give us the words to say in the moment of need. Maybe I am over thinking this and need to place more trust in the Lord…. I don’t know. Perhaps I am placing too much focus on myself and my tiny knowledge when really it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God.
This past Thursday was my birthday and oh what a birthday it was! I was hesitant about being in Iraq on my birthday. The past few summers I have spent my birthday working at camp with friends and usually not with my family. However, this summer I felt even further from my home and strange being without friends and family at the celebration of my 23rd year. (Geez, I am getting old!) I did miss my friends and family but I have to say that this was one of the most unique and extraordinary birthdays I have had thus far.
 The morning was filled with work and practical things to get done. Then, one of our Kurdish friends, Nadia, took me and two other interns out to lunch at the nicest restaurant that I have been to in Suly so far… an Italian café, Roma. (Who would have guessed that there would be Italian food in Northern Iraq?) She paid for our entire meal because it was my birthday! How crazy is that, a girl I barely know paying for my expensive birthday lunch… and not only mine but two others as well. I am constantly dumbfounded at the hospitality of the people here.
The afternoon was perhaps my favorite part. I think I have mentioned that two times a week the interns work with students who are trying to learn English. We have gotten very close to the people at the English Club and they have become some of my closest Kurdish friends. Monday, all the girls decided they were going to throw me a huge party for my birthday. Let me just say, I have known these girls for barely 3 weeks. Honestly, I would have never done that for someone I had known for such a short time. Not to mention, here in Iraq most Kurds don’t even really celebrate birthdays. In fact, once a person gets over the age of about 30 they stop counting their age all together! So, for these girls to throw me a birthday party is kind of a big deal. They then decided it was going to be a surprise party. (Yet, they told me they were planning on surprising me haha). Anyway, so Thursday afternoon we met at the youth center where we have English Club. They ‘surprised’ me in the garden with about 25 people singing happy birthday including the two teachers of their class whom I have never met. There were balloons, birthday signs, presents and a cake with sparklers on top (that set a few plastic plates on fire!) I was sang to in both Kurdish and English and the party was complete with Kurdish and Arabic dancing = awesome! One of the best birthdays ever. I was so surprisingly blessed and humbled by the love of these girls whom I’ve known for so little time. Coming to Iraq, I had hoped to build relationships with the people here and I prayed for a burden and desire for them to know the Lord. I didn’t realize how real the answer to those prayers would be. I didn’t think I would have anything in common with 20-year-olds who live half way around the world. Yet, I already dread the time when I will leave these sweet friendships that I’ve had for merely 3 weeks. In no way did I think I would care this much about them and to think… they are so lost. They are so deceived. They need Jesus. I wish I could just place in their mind the truth of the Gospel. I wish I could make them believe. But this is not the case. As of this second, I won’t be spending eternity with these precious girls. I’ve never felt so helpless and yet so reliant on the Lord. I am thankful that there is hope and I’m pleading to the Lord on their behalf, that their eyes would be opened. I hope that you will pray with me for these ladies (again by name: Samana, Suzan, Govar, Mays, Bajan, Shahen, Fenik, and Sarwa.)
Thusday night the PLC team threw me another celebration with Mexican food (the food I miss the most) , chocolate cake and serendipity frozen hot chocolate. I was really so blessed and encouraged by them. By the PLC staff whom I admire so much, that they would spend time to celebrate me. Such a sweet time. So awesome. Hooray for 23 years!
On the note of birthdays, I would like to give a shout out to my sister, Haley,  who turned 18 yesterday (You are getting old too!) Happy Birthday sweet sister, you bless me and encourage me more than you could ever know. I am encouraged by your confidence in who you are in Christ and challenged by your love for Him. I so wish I could be with you on your birthday. Love you little sister!
Friday, we were all invited on a picnic with the staff of Kurdistan Save the Children, a local NGO. Let me just explain how picnics work here: it is not a 2 or 3 hour event where you bring a picnic basket with potato salad and sandwiches, eat lunch and go home. Oh no… people here are serious about their picnics. We left Friday morning at 8:30 AM and drove about 45 minutes outside of Suly. We sat up camp and spent the next 11 hours eating lunch, drinking çay, taking naps, drinking çay, going hiking and swimming, having more food with çay, talking, playing Frisbee and other games, drinking çay, eating dinner and ending the day with  çay… but of course. We arrived back in Suly just in time to go to bed at about 10 that night. It was such an exhausting experience but one of my favorite things I have done so far.
Prayer Needs:
Continued diligence in staying in the Word and focus for being here.
 Continued prayer for Shad’s family. PLC is trying to set up a memorial fund in Shad’s name, but things that work in America don’t necessarily work in Iraq. There are so many people connected to Shad’s story that it could be a really good thing. Pray that the PLC staff would have the words to explain the memorial fund to Shad’s family and doors to be opened if this is what is suppose to happen.
 Relationships to deepen among our Kurdish friends. For communication boundaries to be broken. For boldness and the eyes to be able to see opportunities when presented.
 I am trying so hard to learn the Kurdish language but I’m convinced that it’s ten times harder than Spanish. I need major grace in learning.
Many people on the team have been sick this week. Pray for healing and rejuvenation and that our immunity systems would be built up.
 Pray for major decisions that need to be made in the next few weeks.
Thank you for caring so much about what we are doing in Iraq to pray and read these ridiculously long posts. You are such a big part of what is happening here and the encouragement your emails and prayers bring help me to push through every day.