What does it look like to be brave? What does it look like to have courage?
I’m wrestling with these very thoughts as I walk the streets of Iraq for the very first time these first few days. My corner of Iraq is nothing like what I expected…but yet everything that it should be. Dusty mountains against a crystal-blue sky dot the horizon…except when the wind swirls the dust all through the air, clouding the sky. Colorful, flashing lights and signs top street corners and buildings. Busy streets filled with people of all colors, dress, and language. Modern café and gelato shops touting free wifi are just blocks away from beautiful shops filled with Middle Eastern paintings, huge urns filled with exotic dried fruits and roasted nuts, and hand-woven baskets spilling over with spices in the brightest and most brilliant shades of reds, oranges, blues, yellows.
When telling others about my upcoming time in Iraq, the phrase I heard most often was “Wow. You must be really brave. That’s not an easy place…I’ll be praying for you!” While I CERTAINLY need your prayers…this really shook me. As I look around at this place and her people, and then at myself, I don’t see bravery. Obedience to a calling? Yes. But bravery? Friends, I look around me and see bravery like I have never had to display in the faces of each and every person I see. Iraqis who have had their lives devastated by wars, corruption, and poverty…but who live each day with a smile on their face. They have picked themselves up, and have kept on going. I see bravery in the parents who bring their weak, broken-hearted children to our doctors, who after hearing the risks and hardships that accompany each procedure, give everything in them to provide their precious little one a chance at hope…a chance for life. I see bravery in the faces of the Iraqi surgeons attempting these complicated heart surgeries in a country where this type of medical care is seldom seen. These surgeons who go to any length to heal a precious child’s heart. I see the faces of the children undergoing these life-altering procedures, most of them old enough to know exactly what the procedure and recovery process will entail. And I see them accept it will open, willing arms…bravery stamped right on their foreheads.
You see, my friends, Iraq is brave. She’s growing, struggling, shaking, and finding her foothold once again. In the three days I have been here, I have learned much from what she has to offer, and I know this is only a glimpse of what is to come. Iraq is beautiful and a sort of cultural conundrum, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iraq is brave. And my hope and prayer is that I will learn to be brave right along with her…and her people.