Presbyterian Missions—Personal Observations (4th of 6)
An “Open Sesame” Event of Considerable Interest Occurs in Iraq
Jan and I moved our family to Amman, Jordan in January 1990. We found an apartment and started learning Arabic. We enrolled our children in local schools; they too were immersed in Arabic language. We were “going ahead as far as we could see.”
But on August 2, 1990, eight months after we arrived, Iraq invaded Kuwait and began to plunder the luxury goods from that oil rich kingdom. Multitudes of Arab refugees fled Kuwait. The US President said, “This shall not stand.” Thousands of Arabs lined up around the US Embassy in Amman, hoping to get to America. We did not know what to do. It plays through my mind like a car crash, or a nightmare, over and over, in slow motion.
On Good Friday, April 4, 1991 the Kurds of Iraq rose up against Saddam Hussein. Alas, the Kurdish uprising was brave, spontaneous, hopeless, glorious and doomed. My Kurdish landlord said to me, when I moved to Iraq later that year, “We fought Saddam’s army for one day, but we could not withstand tanks and helicopters and trained troops.” Saddam’s army was coming! In a panic the entire Kurdish population—more than three million people—fled to the mountains. There, in the mud and snow, unable to go forward, unable to go back, Kurds began to die by the thousands. Once you lose your shoes in the mud, or once grandma can no longer keep moving, the end comes quickly. No one had ever heard of the Kurds; suddenly their plight was being broadcast to the entire world.
The United States led a humanitarian relief effort called Operation Provide Comfort. The US army would force Saddam Hussein’s army to leave the Kurdish region. America would guide the Kurdish refugees back to safety.
Operation Provide Comfort was a miracle. It was a sudden opening into one of the most closed countries in the world. What was impossible yesterday became possible today. Now was the time to move. We were living in Jordan; that made it possible to consider how to get to Iraq. (Had we still been living in America, waiting for some kind of permission, I do not think our team could have made the move God enabled us to make next.) We boarded a US military helicopter, and flew into Iraq. We translated for the US army. We slept in tents like the US army and ate what the army ate. By our second day we were starting to learn Kurdish. All spring the US army built “tent cities” for tens of thousands of Kurds who were returning from the mountains. American troops dug latrines, distributed food and water, exploded ordnance every morning at 11:00 am, and guarded against the return of Saddam’s army. I found myself directing a humanitarian relief agency, Northwest Medical Teams, based out of Portland, Oregon.
When summer turned to autumn, the Kurds moved back into their homes, and we moved into the neighborhood. Years later it occurred to me that we were the first team of missionaries to live in Iraq in a long time.
And God bless the United States of America.
Presbyterian Missions–Blincoe’s Personal Observations. This is my 4th blog post in a series of 6.