As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. Proverbs 25:25
Stories travel fast in the Middle East when fueled by hope and a hunger for evidence of goodness, or mercy, or, ultimately, loving kindness. When Jesus walked in village or countryside, desert or shoreline, people walked great distances to hear, to see, and then to accept or reject what they saw and heard. The thirsty received. And they were changed. It is the same today in Iraq, a far country from us, but the news is good as another story is told about people in a horrible reality that we cannot fathom. Here is the story of Raghda and Fareed.
Fareed and Raghda had been married over 15 years but they were childless as Raghda was unable to conceive. About three years ago, they met brother Omar and his wife who were spreading the Good News of salvation through Yeshua in the Fallujah area. Both Fareed and his wife accepted Yeshua as their Lord and Savior. Soon thereafter, Omar and brother Salem prayed for them that they would be given children and within the year Raghda gave birth to twin boys, now about 1-1/2 years old. No words are needed for us to imagine their joy. After a time in close proximity to Omar and his group of believers, Fareed and Raghda had to move to another location, not knowing that soon their lives would be changed forever.
Much has changed in Fallujah this year. We know that the Iraqi army began an offensive to retake Fallujah from the control of ISIS on May 23 and Western news reports confirm that up to 90,000 civilians were believed trapped in Fallujah with little food or water. It is estimated that 20,000 people managed to flee the city and its surrounding area since then. Fareed and Raghda also attempted to escape from the Fallujah area with their sons. But where could they go? According to the UN, “the lack of secure routes made escape extremely difficult and dangerous. Those who managed to reach government-held lines said they walked for days to avoid sniper fire and explosive devices planted by ISIS insurgents along roads to delay the army’s advance.”
Ultimately, Fareed and Raghda were not able to escape the Fallujah area. Instead, they and their two sons were captured by ISIS. Forced to enter a mosque and pray to Allah or be killed, Raghda tells that she and her husband did not have the strength or courage to refuse and they were ordered to pray 5 times a day to Allah. Even while feeling great guilt, Raghda nevertheless prayed as ordered. But with her eyes closed tightly, she could see in her mind’s eye that the floor around her was covered with snakes, scorpions and dangerous creatures that left her terrified. Ashamed and crying, she told her husband what she had seen. Fareed had experienced the same vision of snakes and scorpions covering the floor.
Then the bombs came and, with them, even more suffering. The family tried to escape, but Fareed and the twin boys were killed in the bombing.
Raghda could only run, screaming, crying. Devastated. Ashamed. Guilty. Broken.
She ran into the desert, away from Fallujah.
She ran until Nader, a fellow Christian who had worked with Omar and knew the family, found her. He listened to her tell her story, listened to her say over and over, “we are weak people!” He heard her despair over the guilt she felt for praying to a god of snakes and scorpions, saying, “I don’t know if God will forgive me.”
Nader took Raghda to see Sister Fatima in whose home yet another communion service was to be held. Fatima prayed with her as about 250 gathered in and around the home. There was a lady in this group who had heard the story of Sarah and Bassanah in Syria, how the One True God had shown them that their sons were indeed still alive in His Presence. And Raghda asked Fatima to pray for her for the same. Fatima could not say what God would do, but He led Fatima in praying for Raghda, “God, this widow is yours. Please show her your forgiveness. Can you maybe show her her family?”
Such a simple prayer. Simple words. Simple trust.
For over 40 minutes, Raghda lay on the ground as people around her prayed and waited for their God to move in mercy and love and forgiveness. They say there was a “great light” over them, with no other words to describe it.
Then Raghda sat up and told them that she had seen her husband. She had seen her children. And she had seen the Glory of God. She had seen the Love of the Father. She wanted to serve Him for the rest of her life. And they all rejoiced with her into the early hours of the morning.
Raghda saw what we ALL need to see:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3
There are so many, many thoughts we can take from this story. Thoughts that focus on our own human weakness and frailty, our own hurt and despair, our own hopelessness and loss.
OR, thoughts that are “like cold water to a thirsty soul.” Thoughts that center on the greatness of the God that forgives, OUR God, who daily makes us alive to tell our story to others:
Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace we have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2: 4-10
In Him be Glory forever and ever.
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