I’m not brave. By not brave I mean I’m the kind of person who brought blue anxiety flashcards on a cruise ship to help her get through the stress of being stuck on a ship with endless buffets and massages. Flashcards with important information on them like “breath deep” and “you are safe” (I wish I was joking). That’s the type of person I am. But then in 2014 when ISIS was newly emerging, I saw a 3 minute video of a Yazidi woman pleading with the Iraqi parliament for the lives of her people who were trapped on a mountain in the hottest month of August with no food or water. Their husbands, fathers, and sons were being shot and buried in mass graves. Their women and girls were being kidnapped, and children as young as 9 were sold to be passed around as sex slaves to ISIS fighters.
ISIS targeted the Yazidis specifically because of their religious beliefs. The Christian community was given a two-day warning to choose to abandon their homes and leave the area, convert to Islam and agree to pay jizya (tax for them not to kill you), or die. To quote one of our dear Yazidi friends, “We weren’t given even two seconds.” ISIS rounded up all of the Yazidi women, killed the old and raped the others. Before the attacks they already had systems for how they were going to sell these young girls and women. It wasn’t until many years later that the extent of the horrors these Yazidi women experienced would come to light.
Although the video brought me to tears for weeks after seeing it, I never wanted to go to Iraq. Someone like me doesn’t travel, but that all changed in 2015 over a simple breakfast. Our friend, Eugene, was traveling to Iraq to provide aid with his organization. I told Eugene, “When you go there please tell the Yazidi’s that there is a momma in the U.S. who loves them passionately and prays for them everyday.” Eugene said the most disturbing sentence I had ever heard, “Anna, you should come tell them yourself.” I told him no really I shouldn’t. I am severely hypoglycemic, and I get chronic migraines. That is why I am called to serve refugees here in the U.S. His response was, “Don’t worry. We can get you food as often as you need it. It’s not that dangerous. I even brought my mother-in-law there.” I told my husband that we forgot to ask him if he even likes his mother-in-law. His follow up safety plans was, “Don’t worry, Anna. If anything goes wrong and we get separated, I will show you how to head for Turkey by looking at the position of the sun.” I said to my husband who was excited about this plan, “How is this even a real conversation?”
I could not get Eugene’s invitation out of my head and the thought of the Yazidi women enduring horrors in the name of a god. I wanted them to know how much the God I serve, Jesus, loved and valued women. How Jesus radically changed my life years ago through an abusive marriage. After transforming my life, Jesus went and did the same for my husband. In the midst of my trials I would spend hours at night meditating on the Bible and writing letters to Jesus. So it is with this background of immense love for Jesus I said, “Jesus, you know I love you. I have always said you are worth everything. I don’t mean to critique you, but being about 20 miles away from the capital of ISIS feels like a really bad life choice. But if this is of you I need a sign. I want my best friend to go with me because friends don’t let friends get kidnapped alone. I’m scared. I want her with me. She doesn’t have the $3,000 to go. If you provide that for her I will take that as a sign and go.” As soon as I finished the prayer I got a text from a girl I didn’t know well saying, “Hi, Anna. I feel like God wanted me to tell you I have money, so if you have a need don’t hesitate to ask.” I stared at my phone in disbelief. I called her and told her about my prayer. She told me she had just been praying and asking God where He wanted her to give her $3,000 tithe. That is how I landed on a plane headed to ISIS territory in Iraq. Our first night in Iraq we ate dinner on a patio listening to bombs explode, and the girl who needed flashcards on a cruise ship had complete peace.
I will be forever grateful I said, “Yes,” to that trip despite my fear. It changed my life. Had I let fear win I would have missed out on the greatest adventure of a lifetime following Jesus anywhere. I go to Iraq on a regular basis now to provide aid. The Yazidis are no longer a news story; they are my friends and family. I share this story with you because living in fear is a horrible existence. Jesus came to set the captives free! One of the worst prisons you can be in is a prison of fear. Micah 6:8, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” You may not be called to live among victims of ISIS, but you are called somewhere and to someone for something. Don’t let fear or insecurity or just plain busyness stop you. Ask yourself what fear might God be asking you to push through so you can become his hands and feet to a lost and hurting world? May I encourage you to grab on to the words in Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”