[… yeah, this really isn’t easy… but it’s infinitely harder to live. And? If you read right to the end — it gets real practical and very tangible and we get to seriously change things….*UPDATE & SPOILER ALERT: don’t miss the bottom update to see what all you brave & real people are miraculously doing all ‘TogESTHER’ to bravely & powerfully defy ISIS… #GenEsthers #EstherGeneration #ForSuchATimeAsNow]
Dear North American Church,
Go ahead — wave to a nine-year-old kid today.
Sit on the edge of her bed and just watch — just watch your nine-year-old while she sleeps.
Then sit with a 9 year-old-girl on the floor of a shipping container in the middle of northern Iraq and her mother will tell you that girls here don’t smile like they used to, they don’t laugh here like she remembers.
Except there aren’t many nine year olds Yezidi girls here, among these families displaced and fleeing from ISIS.
There are 5 year olds, 7 year olds, but — I looked for them: there are no nine year olds.
Nine-year-old Yezidi and Christian girls can show up in headlines: Impregnated. Held, taken, violated and discarded. Sides round and swollen. Sent back to shame their communities. Pregnant little girls with dolls still in their hands. While we are having out wheaties and reading the day’s news.
ISIS sells nine year old girls in slave bazaars.
Click away, turn the other way if you want, but those girls are wild to turn and escape — and they can’t. They are categorized. Stripped. And shipped naked. Examined and distributed. Sold and passed around like meat. Livestock.
You can walk into any mall and buy a pair of NIKE running shoes for what they are buying a Christian or Yezidi girl from 1-9 years of age — $172 dollars. And she’s yours. For whatever you want, for as long as you want, to make do whatever you want. Sit with that. Yeah, we’re all done living in a world where a pair of shoes can last longer, have more worth, be treated with more value, than a fondled, raped and discarded 9 year-old-girl.
The United Nations reports this week that at least one young girl’s been “married” over 20 times — and forced at the end of each violation to undergo surgery to “restore” her virginity.
So it could be ripped open and destroyed by the next highest bidder.
Look — We’re all done with keeping up with the Kardashians or whatever flash of skin is being flaunted on red carpets — when there are little girls being devoured on bare concrete floors and we will keep company with Jesus and be the ones who do something about the things that breaks His heart.
I sit with 4 Yezidi mothers in a shipping container where they sleep.
They need someone to have enough courage to not turn away. That is us.
Sozan holds a swaddled baby in her lap on the floor.
No furniture. No beds. No running water in a shipping container.
They relieve themselves in the muddy grass out behind.
She leans forward and whispers to me: “Our life was normal before. Our children went to school. Our families had homes, we worked hard.
ISIS takes everything. ISIS destroys our homes. We lose everything.
Now we’ve had to run here for our lives. We don’t speak the language here. We have nothing here.
Our children can’t go to school here. Our children wake with nightmares here — about everything that happened there.”
Her little boy, Mohammadin, carefully slides the red pen out of my hand…. like it might be a key.
Sozan, Marwa, Leyla, these mothers sitting here — not one of these mothers were ever allowed to go to school — because they were girls.
Not one of them can read. Not one can write. Not one of them can even read or sign any letters of their name. They have been made invisible. Made invisible prey.
The UN states the wretchedly obvious this past week: “In the shadow of ISIS, women and girls are at risk and under assault at every point of their lives.”
At every corner…. at every turn….. at every sharp and invisible point — waiting for somebody — some Body — to stand up and say: Not on our watch.
“We could hear the gun fights with ISIS all around us for hours.” Sozan uses her hands to tell me this. She pulls one of the children on the floor closer to her.
“If we didn’t go — we will die. We are very afraid we will really die. We run in the middle of the night with our children up Sinjar Mountain to try to escape ISIS.”
Sozan straightens the scarf around her head. She points to her sister, Leyla, sitting on the ground beside me. “ISIS shot her husband. Then they shot her son.” I search Leyla’s eyes, her face deeply lined… longing.
“… killed them.”
Who has neat categories for this? I have no categories for this. I have no categories for what to say when you’re looking into the eyes of a woman whose man she loved was blown apart by a bullet from ISIS. I can only find Leyla’s hand.
She laces her fingers through mine and holds on like we’re sisters and we don’t let go and we won’t let go and we won’t turn away. Her daughter, Sarah, her one eye clouded with this murky grey cancerous tumour curls on her lap, clings.
She’s not yet 9-years-old.
You can read what the UN reports: Sexual violence is “not only used to satisfy promises made to ISIS fighters, but also as a means to humiliate dissenters, draw intelligence information, and dismantle traditional familial and social norms so that the structure of a new caliphate could be formed.”
Not on our watch. Not on our watch will we let blinders be stapled to our hearts, not on our watch will we say we can do nothing, not on our watch will we let women be made invisible so they can be made useable inventory.
Mawra, she sits near the door of the shipping container. On edge. Her head scarf’s wrapped close. Guarded. I catch her searching my face. But when my eyes try to comfort hers, hers only brim…pool.
In the two hours that I sit with these 4 women and their children, Mawra only whispers one sentence: “ISIS comes into our house and I see them, right in our house, I see them shoot my father — and every single one of my three brothers.” Marwa eyes haunt… anguished. She covers them with her hands.
But we’re not about to cover up their stories with trite and flimsy distractions, we won’t act like what’s happening with ISIS isn’t the story of our times, isn’t the story that defies geography, isn’t the story that threatens the cradle of civilization.
How do you just sit on the floor of a shipping container and just let these women carry this kind of terror alone — how do you turn away and go back to your neat little life of wheaties and news reels and how does the church not stand up and howl?
The baby in Sozan’s arms, the one she was large with up on Sinjar mountain, she names him Aram: It means “the peace that comes after the storm.” And then when baby Aram’s chest heaves for air in a shipping container, when he flails and gasps to breathe, drowning in the mucus of pneumonia from sleeping in a tuck box, Sozan tells the doctor — “He has to live. Aram must live. We have already cried a flood. When will it end?”
I look her in the eye.
It begins to end when the world lives what we actually are: We are sisters. We are a sisterhood. We belong to each other. We belong to the women who can’t read, we belong to the women who have been stripped of every hope, who are being sold in slave markets, whose daughters are coming back to them with ripped apart virginity. ISIS doesn’t own these women — they belong to us. They belong to the sisterhood of the world. When we live like we all belong to each other, we answer much of the longing in the world.
When we understand that we are all made in the Image of God, the Imago Dei, we stand with each other and for each other and about each other. What ends the apathy and the trafficking and the racism and the fighting everywhere — is when we start seeing the Imago Dei in everyone.
When we don’t belong to each other, we participate not only in the devastation of the world, but a desecration of the image of God.
Sozan pulls a blanket up around the baby.
“We had to choose…” Sozan looks up at me. Mawra’s eyes are squeezed tight — like she’s trying to forget.
“We had to choose which children we could take — and which we had to leave behind.”
It’s like the air’s sucked out of the shipping container, out of the membranes of my lungs.
When you and your people are being gunned down, you can cram 28 people into a getaway car — but where do you put the 29th? the 30th? Space is finite. There’s a hell on earth that can feel infinite.
True, you’ve got to shoehorn yourself into the car because the baby needs you running liquid into their hunger as milk — but how do you turn to your boy and say — “We can’t get you in, Son. There’s no more room, Son.” There are words you lose in translation. Who in the world has categories for this?
It’s like witnessing a modern day holocaust, standing before cattle cars in a train station — Which of your children will you reach for, which will you grab and save — and which child do you not have arms for, which child is there not enough of you for, who you just can’t reach far enough for. All I can see are my own children’s faces. Which child, which child?
This is Sozan’s impossible choice.
She has children around her feet.
She has children she doesn’t know where they are.
All I can do is look at the floor and let whatever’s cracked and busted just leak. I am not ashamed. Shared tears are multiplied healing.
Don’t turn away, Church. Blessed are those who mourn and weep with those who weep and in the face of evil, how will we make our hands and feet into Cross-Shaped love?
“When we are on Sinjar Mountain,” Sozan motions to these mothers, these women, sitting on the floor of the shipping container — like you can truck humanity around like meat — “and ISIS is fighting and shooting and killing all around us — there is no water. No water anywhere — for any of our children. There is no food. Six of the children with us — six of my nieces and nephews” — she holds up her fingers — “six of them, they die. No water, no food.”
Does she know that after every meal at home, I water all our houseplants with the leftover water in the pitcher? That our dog gets whatever we don’t finish off our plates? Does she know that our churches are fundraising for building expansions and plusher chairs while their children are dying?
“We have to leave their bodies on the mountain. We have to cover them with stones. We can’t get dig down, we can’t down into the mountain to bury them. Too hard.”
I am trying not to see the faces of my own children.
Why in God’s holy name are we born into North American ease?
Why aren’t my kids being gunned down and shot in the bloody streets? Why do we get to go through our days with no one hunting us down to put bullets through our backs or hack off all our rolling heads?
Why in God’s name do we get to be safe…. and they get to be killed, raped, displaced, destroyed?
Somebody tells me after church, right after I get back from Iraq: “It’s nice that you care about those people over there.”
And I stop. Turn.
How do I make this translate?
We aren’t where we are, to just peripherally care about the people on the margins as some superfluous gesture or token nicety. The exact reason why you are where you are — is to risk everything for those being oppressed out there.You are where you are — to help others where they are. The reason your hands are where they are in this world — is to give other people in this world a hand.
Caring isn’t a Christian’s sideline hobby. Caring is a Christian’s complete career. We don’t just care about people — caring about people is our job — the job every single one of us get up to do every single day. That’s it. Caring is our job, our point, our purpose. We’re here to care like a boss.
Because while the church eats their wheaties this morning, the headlines saying that ISIS has taken the Iraqi city of Ramadi — that they executed 3-year-old girl. That a bloodbath of executions is about to follow. That families are fleeing and a humanitarian crisis is exploding. And it could happen: as ISIS is seen decapitating Christians, Christians are seen defying hate with their stretched out helping hands.
This could be us: Defy evil with love. Defy trafficking by trafficking hope.
The world needs people who defy cynical indifference by making a critical difference — and that could be us.
Every single one of us can start changing headlines when we start reaching out our hands.
Because God forbid, you don’t get a roof over your head, food on your table and the safety of no bullets shattering your windows because you deserve more — you only get all that so that you get to serve more.
God forbid, you don’t get to live a comfortable life because you’re better — you only get your life so you get to make someone else’s life better with a bit of comfort.God forbid, you don’t want to climb a ladder up to the American dream, when you could throw a lifeline down to people living your worst nightmare.
This is your possible choice.
This morning, it falls out of the pages of The Good Book while I’m reading — that page of red ink that little Mohammadin scrawled with my red pen — like he was wielding a key, turning a key.
I don’t have to know what all Mohammadin’s red lines and marks all mean. There are things that the bravely defiant can easily translate in the face of evil and they will never forget.
Like Sozan’s impossible choice and our possible one, and the haunting eyes of nine-year-old girls, and this call for the church to rise up and to be like Christ and defy the dark with preemptive love.
HOW TO ACT & HELP RIGHT NOW — *UPDATED:
Calling Just 2000 More people to Stand up & Defy ISIS
Look at what you are bravely and boldly doing together! NEARLY HALF A MILLION DOLLARS! Together we are almost there! Let’s push it over the top! If there are only just 2000 more of us who step up and say NOT ON MY WATCH — and decide to be the people who give just $25 (from your community? your faith family? your people? your family?) — WE’ll HAVE DEFIED ISIS and WAGED LOVE! CLICK HERE: This is our possible choice!
DEFY ISIS by joining with PREEMPTIVE LOVE: Let all of Our Small TOGETHER Make a BIG Difference
Just 2000 More people to Stand up and Defy ISIS
We get to defy ISIS by loving large & we get to be any little gift at all, and small together is the NEW BIG
1. Empower one woman to defy ISIS & start her own business: If we don’t help Sozan, Leyla, Mawra — these women have no help coming. Preemptive Love Coalition wants to empower women like Sozan and set these women who ISIS would like make invisible free to care for their kids with dignity and long-term security, so these mothers can provide food, water, shelter, clothes, and healthcare for themselves. $1,000 will give Sozan a business startup grant. How many women together can we empower? Our sisters are literally counting on us to give anything, something.
2. Defy ISIS and give these kids the power of an education. Mohammadin with his red pen? Preemptive Love Coalition aims to put 22,000 kids like him back in school by this Fall. If a child loses more than one year of school, we know their chances of ever succeeding are severely diminished. Girls are especially vulnerable — invisible inventory. And boys who are not in full-time school are vulnerable to further radicalization by groups like ISIS. We can put 10 kids back to school this Fall for $100. How many kids together can we put back into school and defy ISIS?
This is all our possible choice.
Where this story begins: Into Iraq #1: Love in the time of ISIS
Coming over the next few weeks: Dinner with 10 Sheiks …
The Posts that Started me on my trip to Iraq: The Wake-Up Call that is ISIS: Who in the Church is Answering? and then: The Call: To the Nations & People of The Cross