One of the most common questions I get asked when in public goes something like this: “Gary, what on earth are you so enthusiastic about!” Every time I get this question my heart starts to pump with joy and a smile instantly finds its way to my face. My response, always: “I’m enthusiastic about life because I’ve found faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ. Holding close to my heart, Jesus’ most important commandment, to love God passionately and to serve my fellow neighbor as if he or she was family.
Friends, I see the face of Jesus Christ every single day of my life. Loving our neighbors and our enemies is apart of who we are as Christians. Joe Pankowski, recently posted a story on Facebook that I couldn’t wait to share on a flash. This story comes from a young man named Dylan, a U.S. veteran of the Iraq war. I hope when reading this story you too can see the face of Jesus Christ in the most beautiful way possible.
“Years ago, on my first deployment to Iraq, I befriended a local boy, Brahim, who would quickly become one of our interpreters. He was able to do so because the turnover rate for local nationals who worked with us was enormous. And not because they quit, because they were killed. Besides the money, we were able to get them to volunteer with us by promising them refugee status in the U.S. if they completed a tour. (But really, I think the chain of command knew that most interpreters wouldn’t make it through their contracts alive).
Anyway, Brahim would tell me about all the family members he lost in the conflict–brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, all of them. He told me how he lived in a one-bedroom house with 7 people. No clean water, power every other week because of the rolling blackouts, etc. He told me how they did have the basic necessities most days and that him volunteering with us was one of their sole sources of income. One day, I went down to the store and bought him $20, maybe $30 worth of toiletries. No big deal really. I just didn’t want the dude to smell bad. When I presented it to him, he cried. Literally bawled his eyes out and said he’d give his life for me. OVER SOAP. Completely sobering. He spent the next year acting as our liaison, providing us with valuable intelligence, and essentially saving our lives on a daily basis – at the age of 16! At the end of my tour in Iraq, I knew I was leaving him to die. I knew I’d never see him again. I was just kind of like ‘take care kid.’
Fast-forward 5-years. And I’m flying home to Phoenix to bury my little brother who was brutally murdered. (Gun violence is another subject). I remember the day like it was yesterday. I cried my eyes out all the way from Hawaii to Arizona. Absolutely brutal. Spend 6 years fighting wars and you don’t expect to get a phone call that your kid brother was randomly murdered in a carjacking. Anyway, I land in Arizona and it’s pouring. Hop off and walk down to the taxi stand. I get in the first taxi that pulls up and we’re off. Driver starts to make the standard small talk. Where you from, what do you do, etc. I tell him I just got out of the military and blah blah. He says ‘Oh, great. I love the military. You ever travel anywhere?’ I tell him, ‘Sure. Been to every corner of the globe. Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.’ He says ‘Oh! I’m from Iraq! What part?’ I say ‘Kirkuk, mostly.’ And he says, ‘I’m from Kirkuk.’ And then it gets really quiet. Like awkwardly quiet. Making me nervous quiet. My first thought is I killed one of his family members and he recognizes me.
And now I’m literally getting ready to bail out of the cab. I see him staring at me in the rear view. I can see the anguish in his eyes. And then he starts to PULL THE CAB TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. He stops, turns around and says, ‘Dylan, you remember me? It’s me, Brahim.’ And I’m like Oh my God. And just start sobbing.
We got out of that taxi off the I-10 and Rural and hugged it out on a bridge in the rain. I didn’t even care, man. So I’m like BROTHER WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN ARIZONA?! HOW? MAN WHAT? And he’s like I did my 4 years and they gave me a visa. They gave him some cash and a 1-way ticket to the States. Asked him where he wanted to go, and he said where the weather is like Iraq. So they sent him to Arizona. 5 years after I left him in Iraq and a few days after my younger brother was violently murdered, the universe linked us up again.
Brahim literally saved my life, twice.”
America and Iraq. The LOVE of God is everywhere. We just have to open our hearts to see it…