Dear Internet Family and Friends,
God bless you! We pray that you are full of the grace, peace, and rest of God!
Glory to God!! Wow! What a joy to report on the might wonders and great acts of God! Jesus truly did it all! In January, by the mercy and grace of God, my friend Tim Maxson and I had the incredible privilege of actually carrying the cross in Iraq! I don’t know if I have ever been more surprised or amazed by anything like this in fifteen years of carrying the cross around the world! I had no idea how easy it would be! I can say for sure that it was not by my might, or power, or great faith, or speaking ability, or anything else that I could do. Jesus truly did it all!!!
For months, I tried to get a visa into Iraq, but had failed miserably! Still, I felt that God wanted me to carry the cross in Iraq. Before leaving, I felt that God wanted me to look on the Internet. There, I found a travel agency, “Hisham Tours” in the neighboring country of Jordan. I called and was able to speak with the manager, Mr. Bashir Daoud about helping us with some special travel arrangements. He said he would send someone to greet us at the airport. So, without a visa, or, even an invitation to Iraq, Tim and I flew to Amman, Jordan.
I believe that it’s really important to mention that because of weather and mechanical problems we missed flights and arrived in Jordan nearly two days later than scheduled. And, it was nearly 1:00 AM! Because of the delays, Mr. Daoud had already sent different people to wait for us at the airport. The gentleman who ended up greeting us was named Amer. He was just returning from southern Jordan and said that Mr. Daoud had called and asked him to pick us up. These two men quickly became dear friends! We explained what we felt God had called us to do and Mr. Amer was able to rearrange his schedule so that he could help us. He later told us that he felt that God wanted him to help us get the cross into Iraq! By the way, Mr. Amer had just “happened” to have lived in Iraq and has made the round-trip from Amman to Baghdad, Iraq many times.
Wow! How often do people stop because of circumstances?! How often do we hear that if it was God’s will it would be easier?! I have found that God’s perspective is much better than mine. He can see so much further down the road! We could not have planned it any better! “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 in the Holy Bible). God’s Word is so true!! “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 in the Holy Bible).
After a long trip across the desert, we finally arrived at the border. Since a person without a visa cannot normally leave the country, Mr. Amer had gone ahead of us to help us pass through the Jordanian border post. Soon, we arrived, walking with the cross. Along the way we were amazed at how many Iraqi and Jordanian truck drivers would honk, wave, or even stop to give us food and drink. At the border, everyone seemed really surprised to see the cross, but we were quickly welcomed as pilgrims of God. Many began to gather around the cross and us and ask questions about our pilgrimage around the world.
After a short while, the Chief Commander gave us clearance to pass, adding that he hoped that we would have no problems! Mr. Amer had done an awesome job of explaining what we felt that God had called us to do! Now, it was just across “No Man’s Land” – only a few short kilometers to the Iraqi border! We carried the cross up to the first border checkpoint, then I leaned the cross over the border fence and I lay down and began to pray. (I put the tip of the cross over the fence and put my fingers under the fence! The cross was now in Iraq AND so were my fingers! Thanks to God! I had now made it!!!)
When I got up, a crowd of security officers had gathered around to find out what we were doing. With Mr. Amer’s help, we explained that God had called us on a Hajj (pilgrimage) of peace, hope, and love. He helped explain how I felt that God had called me to carry the cross in every nation and pray for God’s peace and His blessings and explain the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We told them that God loved them and had not forgotten them. We explained how God has good plans for Iraq; plans for blessing and not harm, plans for a hope and a future. Since we didn’t have a visa or an invitation, they had to phone ahead to get the permission for us to enter. When they returned they said that the Head of Security and Border Post Commander was waiting for us and wanted to welcome us at the VIP Reception Hall! They even offered to send a car! Mr. Amer told them we would walk!
As we entered the building, the Head of Security said, “You are welcome in Iraq! Thank you for coming to pray!” Then, he asked, “How come you didn’t tell us that you were coming? We would have prepared a meal.” They did, in fact, prepare a delicious chicken dinner and brought us cold drinks as we sat and talked. We then had the privilege of praying. We prayed that God would bless and protect these dear Iraqi friends and their families, and all the precious people of Iraq and their children. We prayed that God’s peace and blessings would fill their land. We prayed that there would be an end to the sanctions that have brought much pain and devastation to lives there in Iraq.
As we were leaving, the Commander said something to me in Arabic. Mr. Amer asked him to repeat what he said. After hearing the words for the second time, Mr. Amer only shook his head and explained that though he knew these words, he had only heard them spoken in conversation a few times. He said that the Commander wanted us to know that we were “welcome” any time in Iraq. Mr. Amer explained, however, that the words he used had an even greater meaning. They meant that we were to consider Iraq our home; that what belonged to them belonged to us! He said they were rolling out the red carpet for us. He told us that the Commander also said that we were “brothers”. Not just family, though. Mr. Amer told us that he used the word that meant we were “covenant brothers”! Oh, how I pray that God gives me the grace to return there one day!
Can you believe it?! I have to say that this was, perhaps, the easiest trip I have ever taken! During our entire time in Iraq we had absolutely no problems at all! In fact, we only received love, kindness, and incredible hospitality! All people, including the military, security, and police all welcomed us. We were able to openly carry the cross and freely speak with the people! We were even allowed to take pictures at the border with them (almost unheard of in any country)!! We were treated like kings and welcomed as family! The Iraqis were so kind and welcoming to the cross and us!! It was absolutely unbelievable!
Thanks, again for your friendship and love! We are so blessed by you and your life! The way you love and support us in God’s call and mission is an amazing treasure. It is such a privilege to serve and follow Jesus and to see Him through your eyes, and hear Him through friends like you. Our prayer is that God will bless you and keep you. We pray that He will make His face shine on you and give you peace. May His goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life and may you dwell in the house of the Lord forever!
God Bless You!!