The Brave Ones

 

The Brave Ones: Fighting Isis On The Front Lines

One of the most impactful moments of our last trip to Iraq was the opportunity to have lunch with the brave Peshmerga Army on the front lines where they are fighting against ISIS.

We’d been staying in Soran, a city in Northern Iraq surrounded on all sides by breathtaking mountains. Some incredible friends, Billy Ray and Tim Buxton, have been working in the area for years, helping with the local community and the refugee crisis.

Soran has served as a haven for refugees during the war, and many of the local residents serve in the Peshmerga Army. The Peshmerga are a fierce, brave, and loyal force against ISIS. They’re fighting not only for their people, but for the world.

One morning we got up early and headed out of town towards Mosul to visit some of the soldiers on the front line. During the drive I kept looking at the map on my phone. Our location was a blinking blue dot that slowly and steadily got closer and closer to Mosul. It was a surreal experience to be headed towards a place I’d been hearing about in the news for so long. Mosul is only a couple hours away from Soran, and has been under ISIS territory for over two years. ISIS (also known by the locals as “Daesh”) declared themselves to be the religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. They waged brutal warfare and within six months it had control over vast areas of land in Iraq and Syria and had displaced over 2 million refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons). I don’t think I felt fear that any harm would come to us, but it was a strange feeling to be going towards something so menacing instead of running away from it.

More than a bunch of facts and numbers, I couldn’t help but think about all the individual people whose lives have been tragically disrupted – people who lost everything, or were killed by this group. Along the way, our friends told us stories about the bravery of the Peshmerga, and the intense cruelty and unpredictability of ISIS. Stories of loss and cruelty, stories that stick with you, that are impossible to erase from your mind. Such extremism has filled the region with fear and sent people running for their lives.

And yet, there are many who haven’t run. They have banded together, purchased their own uniforms, and hitchhiked or drove their family cars to the front lines to fight back against this extremism. When we arrived at one of the outposts, just a couple kilometers from ISIS territory, we looked over the sandbag barriers into the Mosul plain. One of the soldiers pointed out a ditch, or trench, running through the plain, and explained that on the left side, where we were, was Peshmerga territory. On the right was ISIS, and here he waived his hand and said with vehemence: “Daesh.”

I looked out at all the land on the right of the ditch. I could see dark smudges in the desert and asked about those. Our friends explained that after ISIS takes over a town and is finished with it, they tip over all the oil barrels and light it on fire. Thus, the black smudges were towns and villages ISIS had taken over and then abandoned. It was a heavy sight to see. Such literal and figurative darkness for so many.

It was lunchtime by now, and ever the most hospitable of guests, our new friends invited us into their tent for a meal. There at the front line, next to a map in the ground pointing out outposts and ISIS territories, we feasted on rice and salad and chicken and piping hot tea with piles of sugar in the bottom. We learned about why these men cared so much about this fight. One of them explained that it wasn’t just for him, or his family, or his town, but that his fight was for the world. He told us he wanted to help stop the spread of hatred and control and fight for peace and freedom. He pointed to his gun and said “I hope my gun can protect your families – even in America.”

This was one of the most memorable moments for me. I had to look around and take stock of where I was. How did I get a seat at this table, full of such brave people who were literally risking their lives to save so many lives? It was an honor I’ll never forget, and it inspired me to continue working in Iraq to do whatever we could to support these people.

Why It's Worth The Danger

We recently visited Mogadishu, Somalia to check on our current projects and dream of new ways to make a difference. 

Here’s a travel log update from one of our team as she experienced the joy and heartbreak of the this beautiful country.

by Carly Hren and Deborah Eriksson

My eyes were glued to the window of the plane as I tried to comprehend the devastating contrast of picturesque, beautiful coastline and war-torn, dusty landscapes overlapping one another. How such an incredible place could be cluttered with the aftermath of destruction was both heartbreaking and confusing.

We stepped off the plane and were greeted by heat levels rivaling those of the interior of black car baking in the mid-summer sun. To top it off,  I immediately had to wrap my head in a scarf and put on my thick bullet proof vest. Both accessories are unnecessary back home in San Diego but have become my lifeline in Somalia.

Quickly, we hopped in a bulletproof SUV flanked by a security team of six Somalians who carted us to our hotel. After passing through five tightly protected security gates, we were finally able to get to the lobby. The hotel staff explained they had to sign contracts making themselves responsible for our lives. If that isn’t a tough pill to swallow, I don’t know what is. Throughout our trip in Somalia, we were only able to stay in one location for no more than an hour and a half for fear of attacks from people from the terrorist group Al Shabab or other individuals.

So why, you ask, would we continue to pursue work in such a risky place?

Despite the difficulty in this land, there are incredible people staring fear down in pursuit of a greater hope. We visited our safe house where six courageous women live with their children. All of these women have stories of abuse and heartbreak and loss of their freedoms before they arrived here. And yet, hope is not lost on them. Despite having experienced some of the worst things my ears have ever heard, they have big and bright plans for their futures. I’m beyond proud of the way they are fighting for not only themselves, but for their sweet kids.

So we will stand beside them because they matter. Our plans for what’s next in Somalia include a bee farm to provide new revenue and sustainable jobs. We also are hopeful to start a school soon for children whose only choice has been to become soldiers. They were dragged into a life of darkness and we believe they should have the opportunity to walk into the light. We believe education can change the entire course of their futures.

As our trip comes to an end I will leave Somalia with my heart a little more broken, but because of the examples of hope I’ve witnessed, I leave a little more brave. If you spend enough time around people who are courageous like our friends it rubs off on you.

We’d love for you to be part of the story in Somalia.

This Is Helen

Did you know that Love Does has two safe houses in Kampala Uganda, with a total of 30 girls living between them?

At our safe homes, we aim to focus on reconciliation of girls with their home communities. Upon entering the homes, Molly, our resettlement coordinator, will begin to identify the girls’ home communities and begin the forgiveness and reconciliation process. Since the first safe house opened, we have seen more than 40 girls who were living lives entrenched with sexual exploitation transform into visions of hope and joy. The girls have participated in Bible studies, character development and discipleship, community work, arts and crafts and many other activities. We have seen a great improvement in the character and behavior of the girls. They are freely opening up to the mentors and have started appreciating the new life they are experiencing amidst their past.

One of our girls, Helen* has an incredible story of transformation! When we first met Helen, she was living in the slums of Kampala living a life filled with prostitution and drugs. Now, just 3 years later, Helen has graduated from a cosmetology program & has been reconciled with her family. Helen is just one of the many girls living in our safe homes, that has worked hard to make changes in her life, and with the help of the amazing staff & mentors she is able to do so!

Helen’s story is made possible because of friends who support our Safe Houses in Kampala.

*For safety and privacy reasons, Helen’s name and photo have been changed.