This article was originally published in the World Orphans Spring Insight Magazine 2019.
As the rain fell on our dreary gathering, Ahmed’s* son was gently placed in the bottom of the grave, separated from the wet clay soil by a thin piece of loose plastic. The digger began moving the dirt back into the grave, and within a few minutes, it was done.
Ahmed hails from the notorious city of Fallujah in southern Iraq, a region marked by some of the fiercest fighting of the Iraq war. The amount of weaponry used in Fallujah to quell resistance and wipe out Al-Qaeda and ISIS dwarfs that which was used anywhere else in the country. As a result of the fighting and perhaps the types of weapons chosen, birth defects in this area are six times more likely than in other parts of Iraq.
Of Ahmed’s six children, half of them were born with birth defects. His 13-year-old son, the most disabled of the children, now lies at peace in a newly-created cemetery for Arab Internally Displaced People who will never return home.
What words do you use to provide comfort to a man who has just buried his child? When I sat down with Ahmed and his family, the question of what had caused so many birth defects was briefly raised, but then quickly swept under the carpet. I knew no words could soothe this type of grief.
Ahmed has been a faithful teacher at our refugee school over the last few years. He is such an effective teacher that we, as a family, hired him to teach our three boys. His cheery smile and enthusiasm for learning have been a bright spot in our work here in Iraqi-Kurdistan.
When I look at Ahmed, I see a different vision for the people of Iraq. Despite the grief, I see hope, and I dare to believe in a rewritten story that brings the downtrodden and wounded into relationship with Christ, birthing a collaboration that bridges the divide that separates us. I still believe in a better world built through our shared trials, joined together in compassion and love.
There is one who has gone before us—one who has already shared in all the suffering that this planet can dispense, yet was faithful to the end. Christ’s vision of bringing healing to our suffering world compels us to continue. Though we may not have the words amid the grief, we remain present, available, and ready to help as long as suffering exists in our world.
*Identity changed for protection
In 2014, The Refuge Initiative was launched in response to the humanitarian crisis stemming from ISIS advances in Northern Iraq and Syria. We build communities of hope by providing both homes and wholistic care to refugees.