Northern Iraq – The ball was the key to his happiness.  As we walked in the room, Aram was dressed in exceptionally fancy boots.  And his hair was newly coiffured.  He and his brother had just been to the barber and their heads reflected exceptional preparation for something special.  Turns out, their aunt was getting married that night, and mother was gone, already deeply engrossed with preparations.   

Jerry and Cathy, our guests this trip from California, sat down on a small couch and Aram looked up at them as they settled. He hoped our visit meant something good would come his way.  His gaze quickly went to the bag Jerry was holding which contained what looked like spectacular, white and black soccer balls.  A second later, at their father’s calling, his brother Yousif, 10, came into the room to greet us.  He was just as prepared for a wedding.  

Impressively, they greeted us one at a time; John, our guest John Davidson, Jerry and Cathy and myself.  But then, no Iraqi boy or girl would think of not greeting someone in their home especially at their father’s request.  The brothers quickly exchanged looks and glanced at the bag.  It was glorious!  There were TWO balls and they could only dream and hope that they might be for them! They nudged each other and giggled as anticipation ran through their bodies.

Patiently they nodded and greeted as the adults’ voices bombinated on.  Go get the water and juice, their father nudged.  They darted into the kitchen, bringing back drinks for us.  How much longer, they wondered?  

Finally, Jerry reached down into the bag and gently announced that the men’s Bible study from their church in Madera, California, was sponsoring them and he and Cathy wanted to give them each a gift.  Squirms.  

Out came the first ball.  Then the second one.  Delighted grins.  Their names were even written on each one!  Next, very patiently and dutifully, they sat and posed for pictures holding their prize so their names would face the cameras.  More tortuous waiting. 

Thankfully, our adult conversations swerved away from the balls and the boys into topics like did the father have a job?  Yes but he worked only a few days a week.  How was life for them now after ISIS had destroyed this town?  While they were glad to be out of the refugee camp, their life resettling in their old town was very difficult. There are no good jobs. A former policeman, after months of no pay, he was discouraged with a much lower paying job and then, only part time.  Was he concerned that ISIS might return?  A shadow crossed his eyes, as he quickly nodded.  There are no guarantees that this won’t happen again. 

The brothers heard this talk all the time, it was boring and always made their parents anxious.  They snapped up this opportunity and in an instant slipped around the corner. I watched as joy filled a room in their home.  Walls that had been burned by ISIS tire fires only months ago, now stood strong and clean again for this family. 

They both looked at their prizes, talked, compared, and then bounced the balls.  In an instant, they were kicking them up in the air with their feet as if they were on the soccer field, balls rarely touching the floor.  They were in complete control and were quite good.  I was mesmerized to see these them enjoying these balls…I am sure there are other balls they use in the neighborhood, but none like these, and they belonged solely to them.  

Later that night, after the sun went down, the patched streets of this former war zone faded into the blackness of night and dazzling wedding lights replaced the hot sun, greeting the guests.  The family wedding was held in a makeshift venue on a dusty corner of town surrounded by fresh white fabric walls and inside the walls were thousands of strung white lights.  Tables with white linens and chairs held the best feast their families could afford.  

These two young refugees had found love in the aftermath of war and now they embraced their lives together.  They danced that night, as the ancient dust of the Nineveh plain swirled around their feet welcoming them, as it has for thousands of years, to their future which they hoped was a better one than what their parents’ lived through. 

Hope is a powerful thing; hope for a new soccer ball, hope for newlyweds, and finally, hope for something to be better after this life ends.  

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10.  

Prayer Points: As IM’s ministers to refugees in Northern Iraq in communities like this one, pray with us that their hearts would be open to the Truth of what Jesus said and did less than 600 miles away to the southwest.  Religion is abundant here…the Truth of what Jesus said and did isn’t generally included. 

Pray for a thirst for the Word of God, and an understanding of the Word, pray that God would continue to draw both nominal Christians and Muslims to himself.  Pray for our Iraqi teams as they work diligently with these families both in refugee camps and in resettlement areas with aid and the Gospel. Pray for sponsors for waiting refugee children.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this; to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

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