That was my journal entry for Nov. 11, 2011, while in Basrah, Iraq, and it became the first poem from my journeys. It is mostly how I journal now on those trips.
My friend Barbara and I had a great discussion in the summer of 2011 about our proposed further travels to the Middle East with Marilyn and The Outreach Foundation. We had been to Lebanon and Syria the summer before and were so excited to return, maybe even helping to plan another women’s conference that would include sisters from Iraq. We would meet at a location in eastern Syria for that to happen…and then the war broke out in March, 2011, and the trip didn’t.
Feeling so called to go back and learn from and about the church, I asked Marilyn if there was another trip going that I could participate in and she said, yes. Iraq. She was taking a group of people to Iraq because elder Zuhair had said it was safe now for us to come as American Christians. Wow. Just wow.
We had been introduced to an Iraqi refugee while we were in Damascus that 2010 August named Edward. We had the most amazing conversation about our foreign policy as Americans and our hubris in invading his home. His home was near Baghdad and he was so insistent upon returning there with his family that they did not register as refugees with the UN so they could be sent somewhere safer to begin again. He wanted to go home. To Iraq. It was Edward’s face I saw and Edward’s voice I heard and Edward’s longing to go home that put no pause in my answer when I said “yes” to Iraq.
And so Barbara and I talked. She had been in Iran with Marilyn. (“Come and See.” That was the theme of that trip!) As we roomed in Beirut that hot summer of 2010, she told me the safest place to be was in the call of God. She also said she would travel to the gates of hell with Marilyn. Fearless and faithful, that is Barbara. She’s got the lion’s heart for justice and a Free Palestine sticker on her bumper. I love her, and she goes out with Micah 6:8 on her heart like me.
And so we talked about this trip, a trip to a country torn apart (again) by a war our country had gifted to them to take out their leader. (You can argue with me about whether that was good or bad, but you can’t deny the consequences for the minority Christians and Yazidis and Turkomen who are now paying a very high price for taking out that dictator, whom we supported at one time. Go figure.)
This trip would be for eight days and that included the getting there and the coming home. It was really six days on the ground in Basrah, but we were gone for eight. The cost figured out to be $4,000. $500 a day. We laughed about the ways we could spend that easily on a long weekend or a lovely trip to Rome or Paris. But this was $500 a day to Basrah, Iraq, and back. And we said we didn’t know a better way to spend this money and we went.
We went with those four pastors who served communion at the church for the first time in over two years. We spent time listening to a woman from Mosul – Hana, later we would meet her sisters on a second trip – whose brother the church elder had been killed by Islamic extremists. We heard about the amazing ways the church ministers in a place where it is hard – but historical – to be a Christian. They have kindergartens where 98% of the students are Muslim and they teach their parents how to pray! They have elder homes to care for those seniors left behind when their families move to safer places. They have radio ministries to share God’s love in the reading of his word and his comforting presence when people call in to the shows seeking answers.
That’s my trip journal for four trips to the Middle East. The spine is busted from stuffing it full of inserts of hymns, printed prayers, photos and bios of my teammates, devotionals I’ve led and other memories on paper too important to discard.
My journal is full of these stories. It’s full of sheets of paper that people gave to me: hymns in Arabic, prayers in Syriac, photos and biographies of those I travel with and those we traveled to be with. The binding is broken but its contents are precious reminders of the Body of Christ that I am connected to. In the bigger picture of the body, I am probably the tear ducts and I will accept that description. I’m not the brain and I’m not the best hands and feet, but I can weep. And I do. A lot.
It was on that trip that I started journaling in verse. And it was that thought of $500 a day that poured out of my pen one morning with Barbara. And it still drives me today when I think about where I can spend the resources that God puts in my hands.
$500 a day (2011, Basrah, Iraq)
Where would you go for five hundred a day?
Would you go to the mall and spend ’til it’s done?
At Macy’s and Penney’s, Starbucks and Pier One?
Ten crisp new polos and brand new Air Jordans,
Lunch at Panera’s, a latte, the tall one.
Home again later with bags full of new
With your five hundred, is that what you’d do?
Maybe to Vegas you’d fly with a friend.
The news brings you down; to cheer up why not spend?
The night and the day there are both oh so bright.
The spinning and rolling and dealing delight.
For three days you bask in the decadent fun,
Fifteen hundred later, you’re back. It’s all gone.
No! I’ve got it! To Paris and then on to Rome!
You’ll stay a bit longer before coming home.
The Tower Eiffel, the Louvre with her Lisa,
The forum, St. Peter’s, and then… off to Pisa! T
he wine and the pasta, the chocolate, the cheese,
On five hundred a day, the living’s a breeze.
Take a cab here and tip like a king.
Life is a banquet; it makes your heart sing.
Your tour is over, your wallet is empty.
Back to work and to dreaming…Tahiti sounds tempting.
What we’ve done on this trip to spend the same money
Is fly off to Basra. I know, it sounds…funny.
We’ve followed a call to meet with God’s faithful
And discovered his light in the midst of the rubble.
This city is large, there’s a million times two.
Our corner is small, and it feels cramped too.
From the fourth floor you can see quite a ways,
There are taxis and mosques, in the distance, a haze.
Looking straight down at the view of the street
there’s a guard with a gun and all the cars beep.
The few steps we take when we leave from this place
Lead to the church, where we’ve passed our days.
We’ve gathered to learn, and to worship, and pray;
We’ve gathered as family; we’ve watched children play.
We’ve broken the bread and dipped in the hummus,
In fact, every day, they’ve overstuffed us!
In all of the talking and laughing and tears,
We’ve drawn closer to Him who calms all our fears.
We’ve heard many stories not seen on our news.
It’s not very pretty, and yet we must choose
to take every moment to listen, to learn,
to take it all home and then to discern
how to bring it to you and then how to share it.
The weight is enormous! Just how will we bear it?
But that is the wrong thought, and this is the right:
“Your yoke it is easy. Your burden is light.”
You carried the cross for the sake of us all.
You ransomed your children with grace from the fall.
When we choose to pick up our cross and to follow,
You don’t promise us ease, or a safer tomorrow.
You ask us to sell all and give to the poor.
You ask us to love and to care for our neighbor.
Sometimes that love will come at this cost:
Five hundred a day. It doesn’t seem much.
So what would you do with this bounteous treasure?
What would you use for your unit of measure?
Would you shop ’til you drop? Would you show up to be seen?
Would you archive your memories on an iPad…or dream
of a journey that follows the missio dei,
Would you give up your treasure to follow the way?
What would you do with five hundred a day?