Lives Transformed: The Power of Saying “Yes”

“Would you like him to shave you?”

Of all the questions I thought they would ask, this was not it. Standing in a mud and straw hut, congratulating Nowrus (pictured) on his new barber shop business, I just thought he would tell us about the work. Next thing I know, Nowrus is smiling and gesturing toward the barber’s chair.

The general rule for our team around here is “just say yes.” When I first moved to Iraq years ago, I heard it a lot. People want you to go eat sheep brains with them at 2 am? Just say yes.

A friend wants to take you on a ‘little hike’ up an ‘easy trail?’ Just say yes. (some of the hikers had to be evacuated by helicopter from injuries twelve hours later!)

And this mentality of just saying yes goes beyond cultural experiences and informs our work every day.

This is empowerment. It’s not that we have all the power and hand it down to them, it’s that they are powerful and they choose to own that power.

Children are dying from curable diseases? They need you to hold a dying baby? An escaped ISIS slave wants you to hear her horrifying stories of abuse? Families are trapped in a hard-to-reach part of Mosul and need food? Refugee parents need a chance to work, rebuild, and take care of their kids?

Just say yes.

Saying ‘yes’ is how we throw our whole self, all of our hearts into a people and place. Plan, measure, schedule, work on the details—don’t say yes without doing due diligence, but be the kind of person who says yes. Sometimes saying yes is a huge step, like the way you’ve said yes to delivering food when bullets and bombs are flying, but sometimes saying yes is a small, simple, ‘yes’ like letting a total stranger dry shave you in the desert.

As I reflect on nearly eight years working for Preemptive Love—working with and for many of you—I realize it’s this willingness of our team to say yes that I’ve loved so much.

Nowrus welcoming us into his new barber shop. Photo by Matthew Willingham/Preemptive Love Coalition.

Take Nowrus and his new barber business. Think of all the yeses that happened to give this young man a shot at this job.

You said yes to helping total strangers when you gave money toward our empowerment initiatives, helping them start jobs and rebuild their lives.

Our local Iraqi partners there in the desert—all of them Shias—said yes to serving Sunnis out in the middle of nowhere, far from their homes, not knowing if they would be safe from ongoing ISIS attacks.

Traditionally-made buildings in Nawrus’s village, Maydan Qulli. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

With your backing and a ton of hope and faith, our own staff said yes to helping fund this project, trusting and working with locals on the ground to make sure this would be a success.

But the real hero of the story is Nowrus, because he said yes to himself—the most difficult yes of all. Nothing is more beautiful in this work you make possible than seeing someone who’s been beaten down, shoved to the side, hurt and hidden away, when that person chooses to say yes to themself, to their future, to their own hands and heart.

We cheer when people like Nowrus choose to take a risk on themselves.

This is empowerment. It’s not that we have all the power and hand it down to them, it’s that they are powerful and they choose to own that power, moving forward with the encouragement and support of a community.

Nowrus is deaf and mute—he can neither hear nor speak. He lives in a remote village in the deserts of western Iraq. As if it weren’t already hard enough to live with a disability in a small, remote Iraqi village, ISIS ravaged this part of the world, leaving people divided and afraid, with very few options.

Yet when we approached Nowrus about starting a business in his village, to help him get back on his feet, to help boost the economy right where he lives, he took the risk and said ‘yes.’

Nowrus giving me a shave. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

So how could I say no to a man who is saying yes to his future, his wife and daughters, his village coming back to life after ISIS’s reign of terror?

This renewal is happening all across Iraq. It is essential that you understand the impact you have when you just say yes to people. When you just say yes to Iraqis and Syrians recovering from war, you make it possible.

Nowrus is living, breathing proof, and on behalf of him, his family, and his village: thank you.

Say “yes” to a new future, a new hope for our refugee friends. Give now.

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