Baghdad, from a soldier’s viewpoint

Baghdad.
images from a soldier who was there.

 

 

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9/11

I remember that day as if it was right now, as if I am still 21, and still in shock from the waves of newscasts, phone calls, questions, and tears. It was a day that shattered the glass between my present and my future. “It happened. It finally happened.” That was the sentence I most heard my internal voice say that bizarre fall day.

I was asleep initially, in the peace of Pacific Standard Time. Then awakened by my friend Sheri pounding on first my front door and next my bedroom door. My roommate had already left for work. Sheri blurted out something like, “A plane hit the World Trade Center! I came to tell you! Get up!” Despite the urgency in her voice, I assumed it was an ordinary plane crash. I thanked her for letting me know and went back to sleep.

It was shortly before 7am.

Within a few minutes my roommate Becky called me from work, “Dawn, terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. They think this is part of a bigger terrorist plot. It’s really severe. You need to turn on the news.”

With this new bit of information, I felt my soul shake. I thanked Becky, said goodbye, and went to the TV. What I saw held an eerie resonance. I had been passionate about the Middle East for five years. I’d spent hours upon hours on my floor weeping and praying for terrorists to be set free from their darkness and to meet Jesus. I knew there was an angry plot beyond anything we’d thought of, hatching somewhere in a group of Muslim extremists. I’d known that for years. And suddenly, in a painful onslaught of hate and deception, those plans struck America: sweet, beautiful, where-I’m-from, America.

The anguish inside me burned. I cried for America and  I cried for the Middle East. The pain of seeing precious Middle Easterners believe lies to such a degree they killed thousands of people, was horrendous. The pain of seeing beloved Americans and non-Americans, fleeing the horror-stricken towers, was excruciating. I felt I was in the middle of a see-saw, between the emotional ups-and-downs of two peoples.

I didn’t know what to do except sit on our black-sheet draped loveseat and watch the same news footage over and over; and pray. When I saw the second tower fall, my heart crumbled with it. It hurt so much to see the awful ramification of wrong belief gone horribly amuck. It hurt to think there were people so captive to lies they were somewhere celebrating all this death and loss. It hurt to think of families in America with gaping holes in them. It hurt to think of the ways that one day would likely add more chaos to America’s relationship with the Middle East. It hurt to hear talk of revenge. It hurt to hear talk of grief already tumbling from broken hearts.

September 11, 2001 was one of the most pivotal days of my life.

As I waited, prayed, and talked to God that day – all while watching the news – friends streamed in and out of my apartment. Some pounced in with, “Okay, Dawn, I know I haven’t cared about Muslims before, and maybe I should have, but could you explain Islam to me now?” Others said, “What do you think?” in a manner so loaded, I understood how Muslims in America would very soon be answering this same question. I squinted my answers. Between head knowledge and heart resolve was suddenly a vast expanse of painful separation. The Middle East and America already were at odds, this would drive them both to polarization and aggression.

I wished I was in the Middle East. I prayed for God to lead me or other Christians to Osama Bin Laden to share with him the acceptance and love Father God longed for him to experience. I wondered if I might have had an opportunity, or if another Christian had an opportunity, to really love those hijackers before they were “those hijackers.” I imagined people who knew the hijackers, perhaps noticing their darkened outlook; and I wondered if their own fears kept them from reaching out to those men. I thought about the hijackers’ families, neighborhoods, and friends. I wondered about the power of even a single love-filled hug from a Jesus-oozing person to each of these men.

I also thought about the years to come – as my friends and I prayed together on 9/11/01, over the arched eyebrows and anxious words of news broadcasters, we prayed for newness and for salvation for the Middle East. We prayed in spurts all the way until 11:30 that night. We could not and we can not pretend there is ultimately any other answer than Jesus. He is incarnate hope. He is incarnate peace. We prayed for people to love America to life and for people to love the Middle East to life.

Now, ten years later I have seen the ricochet fulfillment of much of the prayers we prayed in my little family room in my petite one bedroom apartment in Costa Mesa, California. Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. Osama Bin Laden was found. I got to live in the Middle East for three years and witness firsthand Muslims falling in love with Jesus and choosing him above vengeance.

There is a large chunk of progress and hope to be immensely grateful for. And I am.

Yet, over this last week, looking toward today, I’ve found myself crying in deep grief. I am sad with all who were traumatized and/or lost loved ones on 9/11 and in its effects. Today, that is the direction of my heart: prayer and hope for all those who have suffered, to all who are still in healing from the pain of that day.

As we must actively love those in the Middle East needing wholeness, we must also actively love those in America who are needing wholeness. Today, as we ponder life, let’s have our deepest resolve be deeper love.

In the words of Francois du Toit,

‎”If relationships can be rescued, wars will cease.”  

Let’s go forth from this day courageously, with new commitments to peace and love. Ultimately, this will be what victory looks like both personally and nationally. Love will win.

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Interactive Timeline:

http://timeline.national911memorial.org/#/Explore/2

The September 11 Project, one woman blogs for one year until 09/11/11:

http://septembereleventh.wordpress.com/

Taking Saddam’s heads and telling a new story

Posted Image

THE STATUE

This statue currently stands outside an Iraqi palace, now home to the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq . It will eventually be shipped home and put in the memorial museum in Fort Hood , Texas .

The statue was created by an Iraqi artist named Kalat, who for years was forced by Saddam Hussein to make the many hundreds of bronze busts of Saddam that dotted Baghdad and many other Iraq cities.

Kalat was so grateful for American’s liberation of his country; he melted 3 of the heads of the fallen Saddam and made the statue as a memorial to the American soldiers and their fallen comrade warriors.

Kalat worked on this memorial night and day for several months.

To the left of the kneeling soldier is a small Iraqi girl giving the soldier comfort as he mourns the loss of his comrade in arms.

After they saw the statue, many soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division donated money to pay Kalat for his labor. Kalat refused to take any money, instead he asked for the collected money to go to the widows of fallen 4th Infantry Division soldiers.

“I ♥ Baghdad” tattoos?

Incense, rutabagas, astronauts, and quinceaneras. How does this list relate to the Middle East?

The first letters combine to spell IRAQ.          obviously.

Speaking of Iraq, I am now selling “I ♥ Baghdad” shirts with a blank back.

Please spread the word by sharing the link below via facebook, twitter, blogs, websites, email, word of mouth, blimps, skywriting, re-painting your car, getting a tattoo, writing a song about the shirt and putting it on youtube, naming your dog “Baghdad” (or really even “Baghdog”), or committing to buy a shirt and wear it everyday this year.

ALSO, we have begun a SHIRT CHAIN. 

This is twofold.

1. Take a picture of yourself wearing your “I ♥ Baghdad” while doing something unusual or at a famous location (ie. hanging on a rope swing or in front of the Taj Mahal). Alternatively, hold an “I ♥ Baghdad” sign. Post the photo(s) on the Hopeiraq Facebook page.

2. Take part in the SHIRT CHAIN. Pass a shirt along to your friends. It must be handed off at least weekly. Each person must take a picture wearing the shirt while doing something creative or in a creative location. If you live in the Redding area and you are interested, I will GIVE you a shirt if you will agree to get ten friends to take pictures wearing it and then post them in the Facebook group.

Here is the Hopeiraq Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hopeiraq/197099243685654

Thanks.

Here is where to order shirts: http://www.etsy.com/listing/79715167/i-heart-baghdad-shirt-blank-back?ref=pr_shop

“Faith” & “40” by Jason Upton

I was driving home from a friend’s tonight and my ipod shuffled to a song which took me back – to the summer after I graduated from university (2001). I would play the song on repeat, windows open, arm outstretched, a veritable mobile worship unit of hope and passion. The song is “Faith” by Jason Upton.

The next song in the shuffle tonight was “40” by Jason Upton. It was another song I used as a fishing rod, casting the line from 2001 far into the future – into the nation of Iraq. It was in 2001 I had a dream of myself and some friends in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in Iraq. We were leading a Christian meeting. Saddam’s regime had fallen and he was dead. I knew it was a prophetic picture to be fulfilled. Now, ten years later (to the month) I am preparing to reel in the fish I threw my faith-hook into a decade ago. I am getting ready to go to Iraq.

He is faithful.

To lay faith on faith on faith, here is Jason’s song about Martin Luther King Jr, “Never Alone Martin.” I have had many moments when I felt Jesus grab my hand while listening to this song. He says to my heart, “Never alone, Dawn.” Hear him say it to your heart too. YOU are NEVER alone.

Baghdad, THERE I come!!! (hee hee hee!)

Sometimes I feel I’ve been pregnant for 15 years. Other times I am sure of it.

The child is a vision, a passion, a calling. The vision is for the Middle East: to thrive, to be at peace, to be madly in love with the Savior.

Much of that vision centers on Iraq.

In 2001 I had a dream I was in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in Iraq. I was leading a secret church meeting. I knew Saddam’s regime had fallen and he was dead. I knew it was a prophetic picture of a scene which would be fulfilled.

In 2003 Saddam’s regime fell. In 2006 he was killed. In 2008 I was told about a man named Canon Andrew White who was leading church meetings in one of Saddam’s former palaces, a mutual friend told him about me. We began emailing. On March 23, 2011 Andrew was in Redding and we had dinner. He invited me to work with him in Baghdad.

In 2012 I plan to semi-move to Baghdad to be part of rebuilding and transforming the nation.

For preparation and vision-casting, I’m going to visit Baghdad this November. I’ll spend 2 weeks in England and visit FRRME’s home office; then 2 weeks in Baghdad where I will get to know the land, the people at St George’s Church, the folks at FRRME’s medical clinic, the Tigris River. I will also deliver paintings to high-profile leaders in Iraq. 

To say I am excited would be to say the sun is handy or shoes are helpful for hiking; it is decidedly an understatement. Setting my feet upon Iraq is a moment I’ve burned for, lived for, prayed for with a zeal and a compassion that still electrifies my heart and beckons my soul. Iraq and I are a match made in heaven.

For my trip this fall I need $4,000.

If you’d like to contribute toward transforming this nation, do so here:

http://dawnrichardson.chipin.com/dawns-trip-to-baghdad                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

THANK YOU! / ! شكر

Inviting Life to a Death Scene: the day four terrorists were killed and heaven reserved a place for me at the scene

Palestinians gather around a car where four Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli troops on March 12, 2008

On March 12, 2008 I had an appointment with death. What I mean is, I had a divine appointment scheduled, unbeknownst to me, at a murder scene.

It began with an appointment with a man who makes wooden crosses: a run-of-the-mill visit to Deheisheh, the largest refugee camp in Bethlehem.  At the time I was living in Bethlehem, Israel/Palestinian Territories. I went to meet my friend David and a local man to pick-up a handmade cross to be a prototype for a large order of other such crosses, made of olive wood by the man’s father to be sold overseas to help pay for medical expenses for his twenty-something son, a paraplegic after being shot by soldiers several years prior.

When I arrived I saw my friend, Shaadi, a Palestinian who often gives tours of the area to visitors. He was with two Iranian-Americans and preparing to go to Mar Saba (a monastery in the Judean wilderness outside of Bhem). He asked if I wanted to go. I did. So David and I went – postponing our meeting with the woodworker until that night.

After several hours at the monastery we returned to Bethlehem. It was shortly after 6pm. Shaadi got a phone call. Hot with distress he turned to us, “The IDF just killed four men in Bethlehem, in their car, they were wanted men.” David and I asked questions. The visitors waited. Shaadi said it just happened, just then, they were killed by a rocket his friend thought, one of the dead was a major Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank — and Shaadi was going to the scene. “Do you want to go?”
Yeah. We do.

So, we did. Two American believers, two Iranian-American tourists, and two Palestinians (Shaadi and our taxi driver, Abed).

You want me to describe the scene; and I will BUT, see that:

1. God in His kindness and His omniscience brought me there – He placed some of His light in a very dark place.

2. It was an honor to be able to be there.

3. It was an honor to be with Bethlehem in an evening of highest turmoil and grief.

4. It was a turning point for me as well.

It was a small car – a red one, four door, maybe 20 years old. Hundreds of people rimmed it. Abed told me to stay close, and I did. He took me right up to the car, through the crowds of frozen electricity, like the stain a lightning bolt leaves in a stormy sky. The windows were crumpled, shattered under the onslaught of machine-gun fire. It wasn’t a rocket, as Shaadi’s friend supposed, it was a spray of bullets from a special unit of Israel Defense Forces, clothed as Palestinians, riding inconspicuously in a Bethlehem taxi. Reports said they attempted to arrest the four men (3 Islamic Jihad, 1 Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade). The most significant man, Shehadah, they wanted for 8 years. The four men, laden with weapons, fired on the IDF special forces when they attempted to arrest them, and the IDF immediately killed them all. The car itself made new clarity of “riddled with bullets.” Dozens of holes every where: each seat inside with its own red-red-red-red bullseye: four concentrated blood stains at each passenger’s chest-level, with the trails of helter-skelter bullets splayed around.

Weapons found on the men in the red car

(for video taken about 15 minutes before we arrived on the scene
(take note: blood and bodies)
http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2008/03/video-raw-car-swarm-in-bethlehem.html )

(for a news article on the event: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/125552)

“Faddal” (“please go ahead”) I said, moving back at one point to allow a boy, maybe ten, to slide past me – his hands gingerly touching the car as he squeezed by. His eyes surprised me. Not fear, not demand, but frankness. He wanted to see up-close.

I was suddenly tired, rigidly sad. I wanted all those kids to be protected from this. I wanted someone to take them home, to keep them from an impression of reality more likely to breed hatred than love. I wanted them to have Father God’s kingdom within them, to remove them from the competition of the kings and rulers of this world.

A wall of people my standing couch of false relaxation, I drifted toward those I came with. Shaadi was leading them back to the taxi. He jolted around, “Where’s Daaaaaw….?!” – the “n” swallowed by our eye contact. I smiled sincerely, “Thanks.” I knew he was looking out for me. In an ocean of mayhem, I appreciated it a lot.

Next stop: the hospital where the bodies were being taken.

I should add it worked out impeccably we happened to be in a cab with Palestinians when the news broke. It put us in-the-know and also gave us language and understanding of the event, plus the mobility to be dropped off right outside the hospital before Abed went to park the van. Also, it was amazing we “happened” to be tugged out of Bethlehem that day, particularly because the scene was 1/4 mile from my apartment and the circle of chaos and closed streets was encompassing.

Thousands of people swarmed the hospital’s front and back entrances.

Three corpses on stretchers were passed overhead, rafts on waves of sobriety and hysterics. The grand entrance of one body was buoyed by one incessant phrase and one volume: desperately loud.

“Allahu Akbar!”

(which means “Allah (God) is great!”)

Women wept. Weak-kneed boys and girls sobbed, held up by a friend in the same way a man with a broken ankle would be.
Family and friends of the dead.

My tears were already shed. Floodgates released at age 16. That evening I walked into the news coverage I watched for 12 years, the scenes which had once broken my own ability to stand. I was well-trained for the moment which drank me up that fated March Wednesday.

Glug glug glug drank up I was. I prayed. I watched. I slid through the tense multitude to get a better look at this and that. I prayed for kids I saw. I prayed and engaged with the crumbling women, the youth staggering into the ER screaming, “I’m not going to let this go! I’m going to do something to get back at them for this!”, the friends of mine I bumbled into that night (it seemed a large portion of Bethlehem was there), the ones who collapsed under the agony of sadness and were toted into the ER swollen with families, the speechless bystanders. I prayed and engaged with this little city of David, Bethlehem:
birthplace of
the Only One
who could ever turn
this tide of grief, revenge, and consummate oppression.

There is an oft-quoted verse in the book of Esther which says more about why I was at the hospital that dark night:
“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14

After leaving the hospital, David and I filled a previous commitment to visit a family in the camp: the father in the family “happened”  to be the Minister of Labor in Bethlehem. Then we went to get the wooden cross and visit the woodworker’s family. Everyone was in a hubbub over the night’s events; and there we were, the hospital’s clamor still affecting our heartbeats; and our heartbeats still affecting the hospital’s clamor: our peace a holy residue of promise and hope.

for such a time as this.

for murder scenes and war zones, troubled neighborhoods and troubled neighbors,

for places in deep need, for people longing for hope,

for nations, for cities, for individuals,

for such a time as this.

We must not be afraid, but confident. We must not be afraid of “darkness”, but confident in who we are:

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. The answer to the problem. The peace to the chaos. The hope to the hopeless.

We should rejoice when we get the privilege of being all these things,

whether at a crime scene in Bethlehem or a parking lot at the mall. Light belongs in darkness.

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you,

that God is Light,

and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

John 1:5

You are the light of the world.

A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.

Instead they put it on its stand,

and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Matthew 5:14-15