Why Would You Go to the Middle East?

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A few weeks ago I announced on social media that if all the necessary pieces fall into place, I will be embarking on a 3-4 month adventure to the Middle East beginning in January. When I first made that announcement, I was still in the process of making sense of how I had come to that decision, but I’ve finally come to a place where my thoughts are collected enough to share with you why the Middle East is where I’ve chosen to go.

As many of you know, I graduated from college in April, and have been working in the deli of a local grocery store and living with five other women from my university since then. It’s been a wonderful place to be – just what I needed in the aftermath of school. However, before it even began, I knew this season would be relatively short because my lease is up at the end of December. As such, in mid-July I began to explore options for going overseas in January.

As I began to research potential travel opportunities, I kept picturing myself in the Middle East. In some ways this caught me off guard, but in other ways it made sense with some of the passions and desires God’s been cultivating in me, without me even fully being aware of them, for the past year and a half.

I decided to dig deeper into this image by asking God where it came from. God responded by asking, “Kelly, why would you want to go there?” I began to list motives, some frivolous and others with surprising depth, but at the heart of it all, this is the conclusion I came to:

I want to be able to picture it. I want to be able to come home from this trip and pray for names and faces instead of this nebulous mass of refugees and war-torn towns, deserts, and religious extremism. Because beyond the violence and conflict there are people there, living out their daily lives just like you and me. I want to care better. When my grandkids ask me what I did, I want to say, “I went,” not for my own glory, but because I responded in obedience to the call to care. 

To which God responded with, “It will break you.”

But immediately my spirit responded with, “But I serve a healing God, A healing God who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Am I willing to sacrifice my wholeness, trusting that God will put me back together?”

Lately I’ve been exploring this question: If Jesus were currently walking the earth, where would he go? I honestly believe it’s a question we should ask in each area of our lives – in my neighborhood who would Jesus visit, at my workplace who would Jesus talk to, etc. And when I ask the question on a more global scale, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the answer to this question is places like Mosul. Now, just to be clear, I’m not (to my knowledge) going to Mosul. Northern Iraq, maybe, (I’ll know for sure at the end of October) but as I’m feeling drawn overseas again, this question of where Jesus would go has been a driving force in my decision-making process.

As I’ve begun to share about my desire to go to the Middle East, many people have brought up the issue of safety. I understand that I may be a bit naïve to some of the dangers I could face, but I want to make it clear that I do not take my life lightly, and will take every possible precaution to remain safe. I fully intend to come home in one piece, but, the risk of that not happening is not great enough to keep me from going. I can’t allow fear and what ifs to keep me from following what my internal still small voice (with the impressive track record) is highlighting as the next step. (You can read more about my previous wrestling with the issue of safety overseas here: To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain).

This summer Nichole Nordeman came out with a song called Dear Me that has served as a source of inspiration on this journey to the Middle East. The song is a beautiful mix of her saying, “You are so very loved, to the depths of your being, and nothing you can do or say will change that,” and, “Out of that identity of beloved there is so much good you can do so go and be love to your fellow humanity” (the Kelly paraphrase). There’s a line in the song that says, “Hold all the mothers/whose babies bleed from bullet holes,” and every time I hear that it moves me to tears. Because how many mothers in the Middle East are cradling bleeding babies as we speak?

I know I can’t solve the conflicts in the Middle East. I don’t begin to pretend that I hold the solution to the problems they face. If I’m being completely honest, there is very little I can do. But, I have been given a love to share, a love that I have personally experienced and been changed by, a love that I’ve seen heal and redeem and restore in ways that appeared utterly impossible until it was done. How can I keep that life-altering, identity-breathing, breathtakingly beautiful love to myself?

Am I scared? Absolutely! But, the love of God compels me to go.

And so I go, face first into the risk and unknown, but with the confidence that it’s where I’m being led, and the knowledge that no matter what happens to me, I am loved and that is enough.

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