Iraq: How did I get here?

Iraq: How did I get here?

The this is a continuation of a previous story, you can read the first part here ….


It’s the end of August and I am sitting cross-legged on a rug in a refugee camp in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan). A girl politely places a glass in front of me containing very strong piping hot tea loaded with too much sugar. I can’t understand the quiet conversations going on around me as our team and our hosts settle into their spots on the rug along the dark walls of the tent. The inside of the tent is a cool oasis from the scorching 109F heat of the day. As if on cue, everyone begins stirring their tiny teas with tiny spoons. Everyone smiles at one another as a strange symphony of chiming metal against delicate glass fills the space. I don’t know our hosts except from reading about them but I feel quite welcome.

I am seated across the tent from a group of shy but seemingly contented Yazidi women and girls recently rescued from the Islamic State terror group (ISIS). ISIS terrorists are masters of human trafficking among other evils. Women and girls are stolen from their homes and sold as sex slaves. The boys are turned into child soldiers, suicide bombers or simply discarded. A few months ago, these women and girls were experiencing horrors beyond the bounds of human comprehension. Just thinking about what they’ve undergone is more than enough to break your heart and mind. But, they are survivors and resilient.

The epicenter of something massive on a global scale

Its difficult to fathom exactly how I got here. Yes, I flew from Dallas-Fort Worth to Frankfurt, Germany to Erbil, Iraq then drove north for a few hours. But, thousands of tiny threads converged to arrive at this moment. This is the epicenter of something massive on a global scale.

Two years prior, on a chilly morning I was invited to a meeting with the Fort Worth Police Department to address the sex-trafficking epidemic in Fort Worth. This small group of loosely affiliated agencies and non-profits were trying to get their heads around the problem. We were pressented with cases where little girls were being bought and sold for sex in my city, I was in a state of shock. The police department was overwhelmed. Local government was in disbelief and I’m considering vigilante justice.

Fast-forward a year. I’m now deeply involved in a taskforce combatting human trafficking in North Texas. The tiny group has grown to over 50 agencies, non-profits and departments. Over previous 12 months, I’ve made connections across the country with leaders and agencies dealing with the issues of human trafficking.

The Threat

One Thursday evening, I’m preparing to leave my office when I get a call from a woman in our church who is in a US city that will remain unnamed. She’s a part of our anti-trafficking community, she’s a friend and she’s attempting to rescue a girl and her infant baby from her trafficker.

I hear fear in her voice. She’s at an airport with the victim, the victim’s baby and another woman assisting the rescue. The trafficker is part of an organized gang, very dangerous and issues an ultimatum to the victim; “Be at my house by 11pm or I’ll kill you.”

I’m sitting in my office in Fort Worth 8 hours away staring at a clock on my laptop screen edging closer to 6pm. The victim can’t board a plane because her trafficker has confiscated her ID. The women can’t leave the airport because he may have people looking for her. Local law enforcement cannot be trusted and hospitals are not geared up for this type of situation – they will just call the police. She can’t go to her parents because one of them sexually abused her for years. The three women and baby are stuck. They begin to panic.

I begin thinking and praying through the situation. The safest place at this point is the airport. But, they can’t stay there all night without raising suspicion of airport security.

From my office, we make a plan to get them to the airport hotel and into adjoining rooms. One room is for guests with physical disabilities. That way, they would be near an elevator and they could activate emergency devices in the room to call for help. They could flee to the adjoining room if necessary. Our plan was a tiny bandaid on a massive problem. They didn’t know if they were followed. The victim will be going through withdrawals from Oxycotin soon (her trafficker keeps her doped up in order to control her). She will need medical attention and aftercare to stabilize her from years of trauma. The baby will need formula and fresh diapers.

I’m thinking, “What the heck are we going to do? I have a friend in a potentially deadly situation and I have no way to help.” It’s now approaching 9pm. I’ve called everyone I know with access to aircraft. I considered renting them a car but then they would be driving for several hours without protection. I’m out of ideas. My assistant and I are staring at Google maps and the clock. We were both praying. This situation is far beyond our abilities or experience. We’re in way over our heads.

Then it hit me, “Wait a second! I know someone who knows a guy who deals with this type of situation!” I made a phone call and we prayed. “Lord, help them, help them …” That is about all we could pray at this point. We sit and stare at the clock. Nothing is happening. Minutes are rolling by. Still nothing.

The Call

Finally, I get the call I’ve been waiting for. First thing in the morning, a private plane will be dispatched to a small municipal airport outside the city. In the meantime, a retired US Special Forces guy will be parked at the hotel to keep watch over the sleeping girls. Like clockwork, the next morning (Friday) a plane arrives and the security team bring the victim, her baby, my friend and another young woman back to Fort Worth safely.

On Sunday, the victim (now trafficking survivor) is receiving care in a local facility and her infant girl is at our church for Sunday Services (in the caring arms of a young woman who agreed to babysit while her mom received treatment). When I got word the baby was on campus I knew I was walking under the gentle rain of answered prayer. Incredible!

There are people in our world willing to risk their lives to rescue forgotten women and children from evil and walk with them toward restoration. I had to learn more and God opened the door for me to do just that… I will take you on that journey.

To be continued…


Read previous post: Welcome to Iraq dude – A wild ride
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Welcome to Iraq dude – A wild ride

Welcome to Iraq dude – A wild ride

I had fallen asleep on the second leg of our journey.

Tired from the previous 9 hour flight and layover in Frankfurt, I was delirious.  I opened my tray table, crossed my arms and fell headlong into a deep slumber. 24 hours of no sleep was taking its toll. I don’t usually sleep on flights, but I hit the wall and sleep overtook me like a bandit in the night.

Suddenly, I was jolted awake. I felt the sensation of my stomach and its contents lurch into my throat. I woke up on a giant plane and totally confused. The engines were roaring. I had no idea where I was. You know when you sleep in a strange place and you wake up and forget where you are? This was like that except I had the added confusion of being on a plane spiraling toward the ground.  I’m good with turbulence and rollercoasters but waking up on a rollercoaster is a different story.

What the heck was going on?

Our Lufthansa Airbus was in a nose-dive and spiraling to the right. I looked out the window and saw the earth rapidly approaching. Due to the force, I was glued to my seat. I glanced at my buddy on my right. His face was blank. I asked myself, “are we experiencing engine failure? Had a surface-to-air missile hit us?”

I looked across the isle at another friend (retired military) who was traveling with us. He was completely relaxed like he was sitting on a beach sipping a pina colada. Heck, I think he was half asleep. I’m thinking to myself, “Dude, you may want to wake up because we’re all about to die!” He glanced over and must have noticed the bewildered look on my face and calmly said, “the pilot is performing a tactical approach.” Then he turned back around and I swear he went back to sleep.

Meanwhile, the giant ‘Airbus’ is sideways, falling fast and I’m thinking the wings are going to snap off under the force of the turn.

To avoid being knocked out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, pilots employ a tactical landing approach in dangerous places.

Some refer to the maneuver as a “corkscrew landing”. The goal is to get on the ground as quickly as possible avoiding being shot down by some terrorist with a shoulder-fired-missile. The pilot will turn sharply and guide the nose down to lose altitude fast. The effect on the happily sleeping dude in 9C was a silent cuss word or two followed by prayer. [Yes, in certain high-stress situations, some pastors are known to cuss silently – don’t judge!]

Before I could get my head straight, we were on the ground. A soft female voice came over the intercom, “On behalf of Lufthansa, we welcome you to Erbil, Iraq…. we hope you enjoyed your flight.”  Yeah, right.  Next time warn me!  None of the jokers I was traveling with mentioned anything about stunt flying.

This was just the beginning… 

I found a video that gives you an idea of what the landing looks like (below).  Someone filmed a corkscrew landing in Bagdad.  You’ll get the idea.


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Film: Saved by the Storm

When the storms come, we often ask “Where is God?”

Save by the Storm” is a short documentary about one man’s redemption in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that devastated the Texas Coast in August 2017.

Background:
I serve as the Local Outreach Pastor at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth. When Hurricane Harvey hit the coast, I activated our Disaster Relief Ministry and we deployed within days of landfall. God connected us to a small church in Aransas Pass. Our philosophy of ministry was to serve and support local churches in the disaster zone. We landed at the doorstep of First Christian Church of Aransas Pass. Little did we know God was forging a bond between two church communities hundreds of miles apart.  We got to take part in God’s work in Aransas Pass.

On September 9th 2017, we met Tony. This is his story …

Credits:
Filmed and Directed by Lance Cashion
Creative Director – Lilly Cashion
Music: “You Hold All Things Together” courtesy of Christ Chapel Music

Special Thanks to:
Shawn and Sarah McCormick
Dr. Bill Runyon
Pastor David Dear
Charlotte Dear
Ron and Julie Watson
Tony White
Jason Ramsey
First Christian Church Aransas Pass
Volunteers, donors and prayer warriors from Christ Chapel Bible Church – Fort Worth, TX
Global Missions Ministry for allowing us to include this film in M28 Film Festival

Local Outreach Team – Wes Toland and Kyle Yarborough
IronCenturion

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:13


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Booths, Scrolls, Commands and Lessons in God’s Protection

Booths, Scrolls, Commands and Lessons in God’s Protection

Booths:

One morning several weeks ago, I met with Rabbi Bloom and the team from Compassionate Fort Worth at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. We enjoyed breakfast outside in the beautiful weather under a Sukkah (Hebrew for ‘booth’). This day began the Hebrew celebration of the Feast of Booths (See Leviticus 23:22-44)

We were given a brief history lesson about the Sukkah and why it is celebrated thousands of years later. As with most of the Hebrew feasts, the Feast of Booths is a remembrance and is rich in symbolism.

When the Jewish people made their Exodus from slavery in Egypt, they wondered in the desert for 40 years. During this time, they lived temporary dwellings called ‘booths’ for shelter (think tent with a thin screen for a roof). These booths were quite fragile and often had a thin layer of palm leaves or twigs for a roof. It was important to be able to see the sky through spaces in the roof material.

During the Exodus, the Hebrew people understood their booths offered very little in the way of protection from the elements, enemies or wild animals. They depended on God to protect and guide them. Today, Jews around the world celebrate by gathering, eating and even sleeping in their Sukkah to celebrate God’s protection and guidance.

After our meeting, the good Rabbi gave me a tour of the synagogue.

Scrolls:

The first stop on our journey was a small quiet sanctuary. At the center was a large encasement on the wall, adorned with a beautifully carved tree. As we rolled the case apart, I beheld several scrolls. Each had a unique covering. The Rabbi ask for a hand to retrieve a large scroll and we placed it on a table.

I had the privilege to hold and learn about two significant Torah scrolls. The first scroll survived the Holocaust and WWII. The second was a 100 year old scroll from Iran. All script was perfectly justified and beautiful to look at.

When we unrolled the Holocaust scroll, we landed on Lev. 8:30 where Moses anointed Aaron and his sons into the priesthood. The Rabbi also pointed out the passage where Aaron’s sons brought foreign fire (or strange fire) into the temple. That did not turn out so well for them (God protects His Holiness). After discussing aspects of the scroll, we carefully rolled it up and returned it to its home.

Next Rabbi Bloom led me to a large sanctuary. Again, we went to the front of the room where the Torah scrolls were stored. He retrieved a scroll encased in silver with ornate artwork.

A Command:

When we unrolled the 100 year old Iranian scroll, the Rabbi rolled to the 10 Commandments. I cannot read Hebrew but he showed me the 6th, ‘Thou Shall not murder.’ I happened to study the 6th Commandment that morning during my devotional time. Hebrew is a magnificent active language rich in description.

Murder is the unjust taking of innocent human life (not self-defense, just war, etc). The 6th Commandment has two sides in the Hebrew. 1. Do NOT murder and 2. DO protect and preserve human life.

Standing in the present, holding the past and knowing the eternal truth behind the Command was a lesson in theology and history. The irony of holding these two historical artifacts in light of current events was not lost on me. We replaced the scroll and finished our tour all before 10am. But that was not the end of the journey.

Lessons:

For several weeks, I had been wanting to set up a tent in the backyard and ‘camp out’ with the kids. It had been too hot. However, the first day of the ‘Feast of Booths’ was cool and clear. A perfect night to camp out under the stars. I remembered what I learned in the morning and found the application for my family.

Instead of our normal Bible reading and story, I took a detour and told my 6 and 4 year old kids to grab their sleeping bags. We are going to camp out tonight!  Needless to say, they were excited. I was too!

Before heading to the back yard, I gathered my wife and children in the living room and read Leviticus 23:33-44. This is passage describes the ‘Feast of Booths’. I explained that we would sleep in a tent under a thin screen. We would be able to see the night sky and the celestial bodies that God flung into place. The thin tent would provide very little protection. We had to depend on God for protection this night in our own Sukkah.

I saw the Old Testament come alive that night in my children. And I remembered the God who protected and guided the ancient Hebrews is same God who protects and guides me today.

As the night grew quiet. The children wondered off to sleep murmuring about stars and galaxies. My eyes fell shut under God’s protection and eternal security of Christ as the melody of ‘How Great Thou Art’ lulled me to sleep.

A day in the life of a Local Outreach Pastor

A day in the life of a Local Outreach Pastor

May 15th will be the one year mark for me and my adventure in full time ministry. Yes, I am a Pastor, which is the last thing I thought I’d be at 40 years old. That is the beautiful thing about life. It is an adventure! When God calls, we can hang up, hang out or step onto the ocean and walk by faith, listening to God’s voice.

The #1 Question I get: “What is it like being the Local Outreach Pastor at Christ Chapel?”
Well, its a lot like surfing. Every morning I grab my surf board and paddle out into the waves not exactly knowing what to expect. Sometimes, I catch a wave and ride all the way into the beach. Other times, I take a tumble and get rolled by a few waves. Everyday is different. Everyday is a chance to take an adventure. I wake up and jump into the water! (more…)

Simple Living and Freedom, Baby!

NC-Fam
Are you an ‘all or nothing’ type? I am. My wife reminds me of this frequently. If I’m going to involve myself in a project, I’m 100% all in or I’m not going to participate. It’s the way I was created. I have found productive ways to leverage my addictive personality. Take triathlons for instance. I’m not content just dabbling in the sport, I must submerge myself in it totally.

As of late, I’m trying to learn to be content through simpler living in order to gain some margin in my life.

Five years ago, I looked around and we owned a bunch of ‘stuff’ and all that stuff cost money. Then I came to the realization that we did not own all this stuff, the stuff owned us. We were working to purchase and maintain expensive stuff. The amount of resources we were dumping into stuff was staggering. (more…)