I fidgeted on my stool, trying to focus in spite of the noise.
Off-duty doctors huddled nearby. They were glued to a Jason Statham movie, awaiting his next kill.
My stomach churned. Between the cigarettes and the high-volumed intensity characteristic of blown out Iraqi speakers, I honestly couldn’t take one more head-shot.
The one-liner is delivered and my friends rumble their approval, scooting their chairs closer to the flat-screen. I snapped my computer lid shut and retreated—nauseated—as more thunder echoed be behind me.
Half an hour later, I stood in an O.R. filming doctors as they pulled blood from a beautiful baby boy named Abdul before his heart operation. In a way, Abdul’s blood and shrieking made Statham’s flick seem gore-free, but arriving in the O.R. actually helped settle my stomach.
Somehow this was different, and I began to realize it wasn’t about blood.
It was the violence.
All of this happened on my fourth day in the city of Fallujah—the medical mission progressed, and spirits were high. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my physiological reaction to that movie. It’s hard to pin-point why, exactly, but my body and mind can no longer handle violent media.
Photo Credit: “Six Days In Fallujah“, Atomic Games
In college, violent movies and games like Call of Duty never really affected me—they were just fun past-times. But something about being in Fallujah, with all its bombed-out buildings and birth defects… it got too real, too fast.
During research for a video I was making, I watched a ton of archived footage from the battles that happened in Fallujah. The helmet-mounted cameras made the killings almost indistinguishable from my favorite 1st person shooter games—except these were real.
The snarky comments made by soldiers, the way both sides treated prisoners and dead bodies, and all the blood. So much blood. Nobody was respawning after these fights—no ‘extra lives.’
I want to be clear: this post is not about boycotting anything—I’m not saying we should all go tee up our action movies and XBOX games and golf club them to oblivion.
I’m just asking a simple question: at what point have we lost touch with reality? At what point did I lose touch?
As a person who strives to follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, I look at the “Sermon on the Mount” and wonder how I got where I am. Jesus stood up and taught radical enemy-love, pain-absorption over pain-reciprocation, and the happiness of peacemakers. Am I training myself toward those things?
Am I preparing my heart to love the limbless family members who brought their sick, war-stricken children into the hospital for surgery? What if their child dies in the ICU and they blame or even try to hurt me—how have I prepared myself to respond?
Or what about the suicidal American solders—more of whom have died at home than on the battle field—am I ready to love them, given the chance?
This is what we mean when we say “preemptive love,” and, if it doesn’t cost me anything, I have to wonder whether it’s even real.
During a recent gaming spree, my wife asked me, “Is ‘Nazi Zombie Mode’ just an excuse to kill things without feeling bad?” She was right, I want it both ways.
Writing endless blog posts that call people to love their perceived enemies while using a broken-off bayonet to hack mine to pieces in a video game really doesn’t add up, regardless of whether or not the game is ‘real.’
Photo Credit: Karim Sahib, AFP
When you think of Fallujah, you might remember the murdered mercenaries in 2004. How did you react when you saw the charred bodies?
With that in mind, don’t you find it disturbing how excited my Muslim friends in Fallujah were by the heart-numbing gore on the screen in front of them?
Don’t you find it disturbing how many Christians in America enjoy the same kinds of entertainment?
What can we do to prepare ourselves to love when it’s difficult? I would encourage you to start by considering the paraphrased teaching from Jesus below—how far should we take these words? Then email me your thoughts, or connect with me via PLC’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you disagree, please share why—I promise not to attack you with a broken-off bayonet.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”
Iraqis in the western province of Anbar just crossed another heart defect off of their “incurable” list. Our team stood by to support as Dr. Firas and his team corrected a defect that had never been fixed in this region of Iraq.
Little Aya, a 4-year-old with a sweet disposition, was born in Fallujah just a few years after the Iraq War’s deadliest battles. Like so many children in her region, she had a heart defect and no hope for help.
But you’ve already heard that story several times over.
What you may not have heard is that many families in Fallujah have decided to avoid pregnancy because of how many children are now born with birth defects.
Living life with no children—this is no small decision in a progeny-focused culture like Iraq’s. Children are a source of great pride, glory, and honor, and choosing to abstain from child-bearing is a big deal. Some parents I spoke with said they wouldn’t take the risk of having a child unless they knew there were doctors who could provide treatment, and that’s a part of the reason why we’re here.
These surgical missions represent much more than a handful of lifesaving operations—though they’re definitely that. These are about offering solutions and hope to families in need. When mothers and fathers are too afraid to have children because of rampant birth defects and no available treatment, that’s a problem that demands a remedy.
Thankfully, Aya’s heart received a total correction thanks to Dr. Firas and the team, and there are many more still waiting. Hopefully she is the first of many!
A couple months ago, you helped us do something that others thought was impossible: we took an American medical team into Fallujah to save lives.
We’ve gotten used to being considered a little crazy, but Fallujah? Even we weren’t sure what to expect.
This was something new, and it was a massive, collaborative effort. We couldn’t—nor would we want to—have done it alone. Watch the above video to see an AFP story sharing more about that historic trip.
The expertise of our partners, Living Light International (LLI) and For Hearts And Souls (FHAS), made this historic mission a reality. The cultural and historical nuances of a place like Iraq’s Anbar province are vast, but the LLI team’s—and particularly Nadwa Qaragholi and Dr. Wieam Ahmed’s—ability to navigate culture and read between the lines cleared the way and made 7 operations possible during this trip.
But operations don’t happen without trained, competent doctors, which is why we’re also grateful for Dr. Kirk Milhoan and his team at FHAS. They used their expertise to pave the way for more missions that, hopefully, will be able to ease tensions between at-odds communities through the healing of children.
These friends of ours in the battle against The Backlog are invaluable, indispensable, and we can’t wait to work alongside them in Fallujah again soon!
In addition to savvy cultural guides and skilled doctors, these missions don’t happen without you—thank you for doing what others thought impossible!.
Every dollar you give helps us in our effort to eradicate The Backlog in Fallujah, and now we need your help going back.
Help us go back to Fallujah to save more lives by donating below!
Today we cranked up the “cath lab” for the first time ever in the city of Fallujah.
It’s a great honor for everyone on the team to be here; it’s history in the making everywhere we go and expectations are high. People are warm, welcoming, and excited about what we’re doing. This is not the Fallujah you’ve heard about on the news.
As much as we hate to relive the past, the significance of our invitation to Fallujah can only be understood in the context of recent years. At the beginning of the 2003 war, Fallujah was known as a support base for Saddam Hussein’s regime. On the birthday of Saddam Hussein, who was still at large, crowds gathered and protested US soldiers encamped in a local school. Shots were fired and the resulting chaos left 17 dead, including women and children, and 70 injured. The incident set the tone for years of local intransigence against US troops.
A year later, four private American contractors were killed and mutilated by mobs in the street, their bodies were hung from the “Brooklyn Bridge” on the west end of town.
Further hostilities, attacks, and vitriolic sermons finally gave way to the Battle of Fallujah in 2004.
As the smoke cleared in the years that followed, Sunnis across the Anbar province began joining the “Awakening” movement—an alliance against terrorism. Terrorism decreased significantly and life returned to normal in Fallujah.
But everything was not as normal as it seemed. In local hospitals, people like Dr. Samira al-Ani (Alani) were collecting data that would ultimately make its way into peer-reviewed journals claiming that nearly 1 in 7 children were being born with birth defects.
Although Dr. Samira and her colleagues never made explicit claims or accusations of causality, residents naturally began to associate the rise in birth defects with U.S. weapons—both white phosphorous and depleted uranium. No research exists to substantiate such claims.
But their claims were enough to catch my attention. And that, in large part, is why we’re here today.
I’m excited that we—you included—finally have the chance to save lives in Fallujah! Stay tuned for more information about the groundbreaking work we’re doing…
Our 85 suture kits are FULLY funded — Thank you for helping fund $765 worth of medical supplies!
Meet Baby Bakir (pronounced bah-ker). Thanks to the combined efforts of Nahoko Takato, the talented doctors and nurses at Anadolu Medical Center, and the Preemptive Love Coalition, this beautiful little boy is now recovering after receiving a lifesaving heart surgery in Istanbul, Turkey.
This is actually an exciting week for Bakir’s hometown of Fallujah as it’s the first annual Remember Fallujah Week. US veteran Ross Caputi launched the Justice for Fallujah Project to decry the atrocities committed against the citizens of Fallujah during the Iraq War.
US officials report that more than half of the city’s 39,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed in Operation Phantom Fury in 2004, and, like Bakir, many of the city’s children have continued to experience the lingering effects of chemical weapons in the form deadly heart defects.
Yet in the midst of so much destruction, we’re eager to offer you stories like Bakir’s. In a city of rubble, his is a bright story of hope and future.