Treasure Hunting  Nov – Dec 2019

  • When you retire, where do you want to take your first trip?  
  • When you are celebrating your 30th Wedding Anniversary, where do you picture it being?  
  • What do you do when your "A" plan collapses, followed by your "B" plan, followed by your "C" plan?

One month after retiring, Eric and Karla headed off together to Northern Iraq. No longer did Eric require foreign travel permission, and there was no better way to celebrate than going with Karla to the country she had been multiple times since 2016. That the trip coincided with their 30th Wedding Anniversary made it only sweeter, as one of the greatest driving forces to getting married was their desire to do overseas medical missions. 

Turkey's Incursions into Syria

New wave of Syrian Refugees

The trip was spurred on by a new wave of Refugees that were pouring into Iraq from Syria. Turkey had invaded the Kurdish border portions of Syria after the US troops withdrew from it in October 2019. Turkey was creating a so-called safe zone to relocate the several million Syrian Refugees in Turkey that had fled Syria with ISIS from 2014 on. But to do this, they were taking over the homes of other Syrians, Syrians that did not know whether they would be spared their lives.

Trip Plan

Our idea was simple: team up with the Free Burma Rangers who once more were in Syria, going where the greatest conflicts were. However, whereas Karla was permitted to cross with the Rangers earlier that year, the border rules had changed, and no longer were medical augmentees permitted in. Only full time members of the organization.

This discovery came one week after arriving in Erbil, a week where God had opened up amazing doors for us to secure many medical provisions, medicines and IV fluids that would be invaluable in helping those in Syria. God also opened amazing doors with others: we made contact with the Syrian Red Cross who needed supplies and could use medical assistance; we made contact with a Kurdish Physician in Erbil who owns a hospital here and had a network of other hospital owners in Eastern Syria since he had fled this area a few years before.

Onward to the Border

So we now had several boxes of much needed medicine and wonderful contacts once we crossed into Syria, but no means to get in. Our translator had connections though, and we were receiving feedback that the border might open for us due to these connections. That said, by this time our trip was approaching the halfway point, and it was 'now or never time', as our functional time to do things in Syria should we be granted access, was quickly evaporating.

We decided therefore to take a taxi to the border and see if the border would open up. It was only when the priests stepped into the Jordan River, after they got wet, that the river parted and allowed all the Israelites to enter into the promised land. (Joshua 3: 15) Would God do similarly with us?

Security check-point after security check-point allowed us to pass. Then with the bridge into Syria within eyesight, we entered the final trailers to gain passage, only to emerge several hours later being told that without a sponsoring agency, we could not enter. Only our meds would be granted access.

Retreating to Dohuk, we reconnected with the Syrian Red Cross. Could they get a person to the border to receive the meds? Confirming that they could, we sent the supplies across, learning later that in fact all five boxes made it to them as promised.

But now what to do with the rest of our time in Iraq? 

Mobile Clinics up North

Plan G

With our A plan gone, our B plan gone, we now found ourselves with the G(od) Plan = the best plan!

Each and everyday became a treasure hunt, looking for what God had in store for us.

And treasures we found: we connected with not one, but three Syrian leaders that were in the Erbil area. Had we gone into Syria, we never would have met them. And one of the leaders brought us to stay overnight in a refugee camp and to help in their clinic the following day, having a repeat clinic the next week in the Erbil area. Plus we discovered a person that has a non-profit that sends medical supplies over to Iraq on a regular basis. And we were able to stay in the apartments of one of the individuals from a house church, lessening the lodging bills while giving us opportunities to work with several refugees within Erbil itself.

Sojourners Conceived

The idea and central tenants behind Sojourners United were also conceived during this trip. While waiting to go to the border, and especially after being turned down, it seemed the right thing to do. We also began laying down the concepts of how to get Sojourners recognized in Iraq during this trip. Who we would have to meet. What we would have to do. The first steps though would be establishing Sojourners in the US.