Show Another Way

Lessons on Love Learned in Conflict

Burma is home to a myriad of ethnic groups and has been burdened by civil war for more than 70 years; it rarely makes it into the news, but when it does, it is hard to know what to do. How to help such a complicated situation? In contrast, Syria has been in the news regularly for many years, with each headline seeming to contest the others for increased tragedy and violence. Here, too, it is easy to feel paralyzed by the enormity and complexity of the problem. We find the answer in love. When we ask, what would we want for our own families? We know: we would go, and be with them, and do all we could to make a new way for them.

Love Serves Everyone

By February 2019, all that remained of ISISs territorial holdings was a one-square mile village in Syria called Baghuz, which held the most hard-core members of ISIS – those who had survived multiple defeats and never surrendered. As coalition forces closed in on that last remnant, some 35,000 people, mostly women and children, surrendered, submitting themselves to an uncertain future.

As they were shuttled into the desert from Baghuz, they were initially detained at desert screening points, to be checked by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and U.S. forces. It was here that our team met them and provided food, medical care and relief supplies until the screening process was over, which sometimes took more than 24 hours. Once screened, the people were loaded into trucks and driven to either prisons (most of the men) or refugee camps for many this was Al-Hawl.

As we worked to help in tangible ways, we also worked to spread a message of love and not of hate. We treated the wounded, hugged and prayed for those who allowed it, and, through translators, shared about Jesus as the source of our own hope and love. To those who questioned why we would help ISIS, we said, Is there any other way to change hearts? Only love does. And, sometimes, we were gifted to see it, both on our own team and amongst the people we were trying to help.

Love Changes Hearts

One evidence of changed hearts was a friendship that sprang up, between Sahale and Suuzanne Eubank and a girl named Raghad, who had been hit in the back by shrapnel from an airstrike, paralyzing her from the waist down. As the medics cared for her physical wounds, Suu and Sahale talked to her, gave her gifts, and prayed for her. Despite her wounds, Raghad was smiling and cheerful; a special connection was formed between these girls with such different lives. When the time came to load Raghad into the bus that would take her to Al-Hawl, the girls cried. They didnt know if they would ever see each other again; love sometimes hurts.

Al-Hawl camp, a sprawling, dusty tent city, held over 73,000 people, mostly ISIS families. Most (91%) of the population were women and children and 65% of the children were under the age of 12. The population represented some 50 different countries and more than 3,000 children were separated from or without any adult family members. It was the kind of situation where hearts could grow hard from grief and bitterness.

 

Months after the battle of Baghuz ended, we were able to visit Al-Hawl and there we found Raghad again. Her mother had obtained a phone and called Dave Eubank, saying, We love you. Youve shown us another way. Please come and see us here. And so, during that visit, we were reunited. Suu and Sahale hugged Raghad and her mother; they all cried. Raghads mother had procured small gifts for the team and handed them out in pink gift bags covered in hearts. It was jewelry, and the pendant on each piece was a silver, jeweled, zigzag line, like an EKG line, with a heart at the end.

So we see, there are hearts that have changed and not been consumed by hate. There are families, like Raghads, who yearn for another way, children who had no choice where they were born and are desperate for love and a new life. Yet ISIS is still alive as well, with a heart that beats for death and destruction to those who oppose it. There is still a need for the love that conquers all however, sometimes the ultimate victory requires the ultimate sacrifice.

Love Never Gives Up

There was a brief respite in northeast Syria after ISIS was defeated. Seven months later, in October 2019, after insisting the SDF remove their defenses and promising to protect them, U.S. President Trump ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from the border of northeast Syria and Turkey, and opened the door to a long-threatened Turkish attack on the Kurds. The Turks and their proxy, the Free Syrian Army (many of whom are former ISIS), immediately attacked, killing hundreds, wounding thousands and displacing more than 200,000 civilians.

We returned as soon as we could, to stand by our friends, the Kurds, who had given so much to defeat ISIS. The abandoned Kurds were fighting for their lives against the armored and air attack of the Turks, supplemented by the ground attack of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

One of the first to raise his hand to come back and help was Zau Seng, one of our primary videographers, who had been with us through the entire battle of Mosul and later in Baghuz. Zau believed in the power of showing the world the truth being lived by people on the ground in the middle of conflicts; in 2013, he had captured footage of Burma Army attack helicopters and bombers attacking the Kachin. The Burma government had denied fighting was happening until international news outlets ran Zaus footage. In these attacks, he had lost five good friends when an airstrike hit their bunker just meters from where he was filming. Yet he did not give up. Zau was one of eleven different ethnic team members from Burma who have rotated through our missions in the Middle East. These Rangers, coming from the war zones of their homeland, come to help others out of love. They have experienced horrific war: people they know and love have been killed by the Burma Army, their homes have been destroyed and their lives uprooted. They know what it is to feel as if the world doesnt care about their fate. They know the temptation to respond with hate, the powerful urge to seek revenge when justice is denied. And yet, they believe in something stronger: they believe in love and they go in that love. Zau had experienced love and was grateful. He wanted to give it. People have come to help us in Burma and so when God opens the door for us to go other places and they ask for help, we want to be able to respond, he said. Like his fellow Rangers, he had risked it all many times to respond with love to the need of others.

On Nov. 3, 2019, that risk became reality: while helping man a mobile Casualty Collection Point with our team near Tel Tamr, Syria, Zau Seng was killed by a Turkish munition that hit just seven meters from his vehicle.

Zau had just finished editing a video of a rescue under tank fire the previous day, in the middle of a proclaimed ceasefire. His video would show the world the lies of those in power and the reality for the oppressed people on the ground. But his death would show the world, and especially the Kurds who he was there to help what the greatest love looks like. John 15:13 says, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down ones life for ones friends. Zau had always been a great friend; as remembrances of him poured in after his death, many involved his laughter, his humor, his joy the way he had made every situation, no matter the difficulties, easier for those around him, with laughter and joy. He had been a friend, always; and in the end he was the friend that laid down his life and showed the more excellent way.

Love Conquers All

Bashir, a Syrian Christian and FBR coordinator, once told us, We are all just drops, but we are part of Gods rain, and Gods rain will turn into a river and flood Syria with His love. And so we believe that Zaus sacrifice was not in vain, that he is part of Gods river, not just in Syria but around the world. John 12:24 says, Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. And new life springs forth. Thank you, Zau, for your love that gave everything that others might live.

Written by an FBR Relief Team

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