We returned from Iraq yesterday, touching down at Logan Airport’s international terminal late afternoon.
It is difficult to find words in English to describe our trip. Amazing, interesting, challenging, joy-filled …..those adjectives are not strong enough so I’ll stick with this: The trip was extraordinary.
This was my first time to Iraq. We arrived in early morning and left a week later in early morning. I walked off the plane to the heat of the desert and my heart felt immediately at home and alive. This is a place of the heart.
The people of Iraq have experienced sanctions, war, and now displacement for years. Sanctions began in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait under the regime of Saddam Hussein. This means that the population aged 12 to 25, which was the primary group that we worked with, survived sanctions that deprived the country of critical resources. Those sanctions caused diseases from water that was not clean, widespread malnutrition, lack of proper medical care and supplies, and so much more I will devote an entire post to it. It is important to note that the sanctions did nothing to rid the country of Saddam, it merely hurt the people of Iraq.
A week is a short time to take in the enormity of the situation, but the conversations and time we were able to have made our hearts larger. The spirit and resilience of the people of Iraq are commendable, and I am humbled to have met so many and to hear just a few of the millions of stories from this area.
My heart is made larger from the people I met.
In 1923, Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher raised in Austria wrote a book called Ich und Du, which translates as I and Thou. Buber’s premise is that we find meaning in life through relationships, and we interact or engage the world in two primary ways: Through I-it or I-thou.
The I-it relationship looks at the relationship of subject to object. I-thou looks at relationship of subject to subject. How this works out practically is that if we see others through the lens of I-it, they become separate and we can detach ourselves from them. The I-it relationship focuses on a single story, reduces people to objects instead of living beings that reflect the image of God. I-it fails to see the complexity of human interaction. By contrast, I-thou enlarges the relationship. I-thou sees the whole person, encounters that person, not in relation to what the person can do for them, but as a person made in the image of God. I-thou is a way to engage the world with a sense of honor and responsibility, with humility and desire to learn.*
My encounters with people who have been internally displaced in Iraq, who fled with the clothes on their backs, and if they were lucky, a suitcase, were I-thou encounters. My heart was deeply enlarged as I saw resilience, joy, willingness to tell their story, to accept me as an outsider, to acknowledge their own strength and hope. My heart, and I know the heart of my husband, was made larger. I can only give glory to God for this time.
In the coming week, I hope to recount several stories that I have permission to share. I will share stories of fear and hope, of prayer and resilience. I have returned, and my heart is larger.
I’ve included a couple of pictures today with actual quotes from people. Thank you for reading, for being willing to see people through the I-thou lens.
*I do great disservice to Buber’s work in this small explanation, but it is what best describes our time in Iraq so I chose to use it.
“What hope do you have for us in Iraq?” ” We have hope that you can return and live out your faith in peace and joy” “Al hamdulilah”
“You are so strong!” “We ARE strong! We surprised even ourselves!”
“The road may be long and full of our blood but we will go back waving olive branches. Love is stronger than hate”