In my newsletter announcement a few days ago about our historic 10th Remedy Mission in Fallujah, I shared with you a line from an email to a friend that admitted my fear about God's "voice" that was urging me to go to Fallujah to help children.
A lot of people say "God told me…" to justify things that they would have done anyway. But I did not want to go to Fallujah. Much like its more famous counterpart to the north, Nineveh, I was more of a Jonah figure, squeamish and disobedient. But every once in awhile a situation arises and there is a longing deep inside me that defies all reason; a desire to do something or get involved in someway that stands in total contradiction to almost everything that is deemed "normal." It is those times that I feel as though I'm being called by a distant friend. I can't always understand the words, but I recognize the voice.
That's how it was when I first read about the alleged rise of birth defects in Fallujah. There was no denying it: I'd heard God's voice and I had to respond. But responding did not diminish my fear of this "insurgent city" where Sunni separatists once arrayed themselves against American troops; where Blackwater contractors were murdered and mutilated in the streets; where the U.S. military applied a "kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer" doctrine to quell the rebellion; and where the general population believes that U.S. weapons are the cause of their cancers and birth defects.
Between true Saddam loyalists, al-Qaeda Islamists, disaffected apparatchiks, and innumerable impoverished youth looking for a fight, this is the city of which Colonel Joseph Dunford said, "Americans will never be welcomed here."
And so it was, on the eve of my first trip to Fallujah, that I wrote what I very seriously considered might be my last words to my family in the States:
I am scared. There has never been a greater likelihood I would be kidnapped or killed in Iraq. I'm scared that Jessica would end up widowed, raising our kids alone. But, as a family, we are following Jesus forward. I want the people of Fallujah to say "the followers of Jesus have done more for us than anyone else." But right now the people of Jesus are nowhere to be found. That offends me, even as it describes me.
I hesitate to air these private thoughts in public because they run the risk of further ingraining old stereotypes. And if there is one thing I love to do, it's remake stereotypes. Still, Fallujah—whether justified in its actions against Americans or not—earned its reputation. This was not media spin. It was a terrifying place and headlines around the world made sure we all knew about it.
We see that dark shadow still looming in the hearts and minds of many of our Iraqi friends as well each time we pick up the phone.
"Sorry… I can't see you today, I'm in Fallujah!"
"WHAT!?!?!? Fallujah? I would never go to Fallujah."
I don't know how it is exactly that cities come to have caricature (or character). Reflect on these cities for a moment:
There seems to be a cycle to it. Silicon Valley had a few upstart successes which attracted more risk takers and thinkers of the same ilk. Hollywood teems with "prima donna" and Nashville became Nashvegas.
So can Fallujah obtain a new future? Can Col. Dunford's prediction be defied; will Americans ever be welcomed in Fallujah?
By the looks of things, we already are, and with that, Fallujah is doing more than hosting a Remedy Mission—they are truly shaping the future with their kind invitation and lavish hospitality.
And we would not be here without you and your support! So we give you our sincerest thanks! You are remaking the world through healing…