A little different this Tuesday. I want to share briefly an overview of a podcast I listened to recently that is both topical and inspirational. If there is one source of consistent bad news it is that which emanates from Syria, Iraq and everything surrounding the emergence of ISIS. A young American, Jeremy Courtney was recently interviewed by Rob Bell on his podcast, the Robcast and as the interview progressed I felt at once uplifted and inspired by this simple tale of transformation and Jeremy’s impactful organization Pre-emptive Love Coalition.
In his mid-twenties, Jeremy and his wife Jessica plus one year old child journeyed to Iraq with the intent to make a difference in the long time worn torn region around Kirkuk. This was ten years ago and so still in the height of major US involvement in factional conflict. They had set their sites on helping the poor but events soon overtook them after a chance meeting in a hotel lobby.
After many days of serving Jeremy coffee, a gentleman approached him to ask for help for his cousin’s daughter who was dying from a heart defect. He was approached simply because he was American and the man believed this qualified him as a candidate for helping with this problem. One of the knock on effects of war in Iraq had been to drive many skilled surgeons and medical staff out of the country and so there just were not any qualified surgeons to perform the necessary operation. All Jeremy needed to see at their first meeting was the little girl and a piece of paper on which the only words he could understand were ‘Hole in Heart’. He believed his attempts to help would ultimately fail which he stressed to the desperate father, but promised to try nevertheless.
Somehow, Jeremy was able to influence an appropriate surgical team to help this poor girl to get her life back. At the same time, he discovered untold thousands of children with similar birth defects, many of which had been caused by Sadam Hussain’s chemical warfare, but also in the much less well known use of depleted uranium in US bombs (Something not often mentioned in the media!).
Despite fatwas, death threats, bombings, imprisonments and intense living conditions, Jeremy and a growing number of friends dived in to help as many of these unfortunate children as possible. It became clear that funding these children to receive the kind of help they needed by traveling abroad was extremely prohibitive. Somehow, they were able to arrange for an increasing number of surgeries to take place in Iraq itself as doctors came back in response to these needs being highlighted.
What truly inspired me about this story was the very different viewpoint fashioned in Jeremy’s mind by the privilege of being able to live amongst people of all different backgrounds, beliefs and religious persuasions. I was struck by his ability to build bridges across real divides in order to do something positive to change the lives of those who did not have the power or resources to do the same for themselves. One story on the podcast that challenged my own perspectives concerned working with a man who was on the US terrorist wanted list to establish an education for thousands of Iraqi children.
Listening to this man talk truly challenged my own attitudes, pre-conceptions and media bias. It is clearly impossible to get a true picture of what life is like in the Middle East today, and yet not a day goes by when the media portrays one negative picture after another. I felt it was worth writing this just to demonstrate that not everything happening in this devastated region of the world is negative. There are people on the ground making a difference. It also helps to gain some perspective on the rather negative reaction to refugees flooding into Europe and perhaps here in the US. This conflict has its roots in ethnic cleansing of Kurds and the invasion of Kuwait, which is now nearly 25 years on. It is the least we can do to suffer a relatively minor inconvenience and welcome those who have been displaced by this terrible conflict and all its consequences.
If you would like to listen to Jeremy first hand, I highly recommend the Robcast episode here – Jeremy Courtney Lives In Iraq