Friday, September 26, 2008

Escape from Iraq - Part 2

by S. Joseph Kidder

This article is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1 was in the May/June 2008 issue, also available at


When I came to consciousness, I found myself out in the street. It was dark and cold. I was confused and under severe pressure. The first question that came to my mind was, “If I am doing all the right things, why are all the wrong things happening to me?” Everything I was afraid would happen had happened. I lost two years at the University. I lost the scholarship that covered four years of college education. I lost my friends, family, and relatives. It was very difficult to feel the rejection and to feel that nobody wanted to associate with me.

Then the Lord impressed me to go to an Adventist family that had taken an interest in me. They were wonderful. They took me in and took care of me. They provided for my physical needs by giving me a place to stay and food to eat. They also encouraged me emotionally and spiritually. They prayed with me, read the Bible to me, and shared the promises of Jesus with me. One of the promises that we read over and over is the one found in Romans 8:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him, graciously give up all things? Who shall separate us from the love of God? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-38)


These promises brought peace to my heart and soul. They assured me that, though everyone was gone and far away, Jesus was still there, very close to me.

When this family and I recognized that I had no future in my country, they suggested that I go to Middle East College (the Adventist college in Beirut, Lebanon) to study.

But I couldn’t go the Middle East College because it was not accredited. Any college I went to had to be recognized by Iraq in order for them to give me an exit visa and allow me to study in a college outside of my country. To top all these problems, I got a notice that I had to go to serve in the army because of the two years I had lost in college.

When my father found out about these problems, he sent a message to me saying, “I told you so. Just forget about the whole mess you got yourself into, and we will accept you back. We will even arrange for you to go outside the county to study.” It was tempting—but praise the Lord for His grace that gives us extra power and the community of faith that lift us up by their love and encouragement.

When I received this message and when I learned of the army problem and bearing arms and fighting, I reflected on the last few months of my life. I had lost everything—family and friends, and scholarship and education. I could not leave the country and go somewhere else. Instead, I was going to the army to face endless problems. I was down and discouraged.

But in the midst of all of this, the promise that sustained me was Isaiah 59:1: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” God, who is faithful to His promises, heard my prayers and extended His arm to solve my difficulties.

It was at that time that the 1973 war between the Arab countries (which Iraq is part of) and Israel started. My neighbor was drafted into the army. He went into the first wave, and I was going in the second wave. The news came back that he had been killed. My mother went to the memorial service and was emotionally moved. The death of my neighbor affected my mother very deeply and she wanted to see me very badly. She said to my father, “I do not care if he is Adventist or not . . . at least he is alive. I want him back home.” It took some convincing, but eventually I returned home

When I was out in the street after my parents beat me, kicked me out, and humiliated me, I was wondering why all of this had happened to me. I even asked myself, “Am I doing the right thing?” When I came back home, I know how God used this experience for His glory.

It was about 10:30 p.m. on the first night I came home. I was already in bed when my cousin and my brother, who had started the beating, came to me and said, “We need to go for a walk.” I was scared. I thought they had found a way to kill me and get away with it. So I refused. But they forced me.

We walked about four miles to a park. By the time we got to the park, it was about midnight. The place was dark. I closed my eyes, anticipating the worse. I can still hear the voice of my cousin saying, “Look, we saw what happened to you. We saw how everyone humiliated you, spit on you, and beat you. Why? You are either crazy or have something we’d like to have, too.”

This gave me the opportunity to study the Bible with them. My brother joined the church. And my cousin is, right now, the pastor of the church in Baghdad. And as a result of their ministry, many more members of my family have joined the church.

It is interesting to note that my neighbor, whom they had the memorial service for, was later discovered to be alive. It was a case of mistaken identity. But the Lord used the bad news to bring good news to me.

So many times we look at the course of our lives and feel discouraged because our plans are failing, because we have problem after problem. We are upset because for some reason or another, God’s plans are not what we want. But the right attitude is not to look to our problems, difficulties, and failures, but to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith. The Lord used all my problems to His glory and for my own good.

It was at that time that the family I was staying with said, “We have tried everything to get Middle East College (MEC) to be accredited and have failed. Let us get the whole church to pray and fast for three days.” For a year everything the church tried to get MEC accredited had failed, but miraculously prayer got Middle East College to be accredited by Iraq, and that gave me the opportunity to go and study there.

Something else: the two years I had lost in the university later proved to be a blessing for me. If I had taken the exams on the Sabbath day and passed, the government would not have allowed me to go and study outside the country because they had paid for my scholarship, and the stipulation was that after graduation I had to work for them at least four years. That also took care of the army problem because, if I was studying, I did not have to go into the army.

I still must tell you how I am alive today because of the beating and humiliation. I went to Lebanon to continue my education. But shortly after arriving at Middle East College, the Lebanese Civil War started. I lived a very tense and fearful life for a year and a half. The war got worse and worse, so I had to leave. I was forced to look for an education somewhere else.

Someone suggested that I go to Walla Walla College since I was interested in engineering. When I talked to someone about the possibility of going to Walla Walla to study engineering, he said it was easier for Moses to take the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land than for me to go to study in the United States. I did not know the language. I did not have money. And neither Iraq nor the United States would grant me a visa.

I went back to Iraq, and the family that I had stayed with when I was kicked out of my home, said, “Let us go back to prayer.” Prayer found a sponsor for me in the Unites States and made Saddam Hussain (who, in 1976, was the prime Minster of Iraq) sign my passport to be able to come here.

I came to this country with a half dollar in my pocket and virtually not knowing the language. I spent four years with language problems and financial difficulties. But the Lord was always with me and helped me to finish my college education with two degrees, theology and engineering. During my college years I felt a strong call to the ministry, so upon my graduation I went straight into the ministry and started at one of the Adventist churches in Spokane, Washington. Then in 1996, when I went to the Seminary to graduate with the Doctoral degree, I went to visit with my cousins who live outside of Detroit. One of them had just come back from visiting with my family. At the beginning I said, “I am alive today because I was beaten, spit upon, and humiliated. Now I am going to tell you why.”

My mother told my cousins, “Now I know that the Lord was guiding my son to do what he did.” She continued to say, “I am very glad that we beat him up and spit on him and kicked him out of the home. He is alive today because of that.”

The reason? Shortly after I left the country and came to the United States, Iraq started a war with its neighbor, Iran. As soon as that war ended, Iraq invaded its neighbor, Kuwait, and ended up fighting the United States. Since that time, over one million Iraqi people were killed and over a half million were injured. The vast majority of them are in my age group.

My mother continues to say, “I thank God every day that my son is alive and does not have to go through all these problems. The Lord was guiding him to keep the Sabbath.” My cousin said my mother was studying the Bible with the Adventist pastor and goes to the Adventist church.

Lessons Learned

First, I learned to accept and live by the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Each one is confronted with some kind of lordship test—obedience, Sabbath, tithing, discipline, etc. I learned from this experience that living by the command of Jesus Christ is the end aim of Christianity. The heart of the Lordship issue is trust. God is asking each one of us, “Who is number one in your life?” Then, I learned to focus on Jesus Christ. We often focus on our problems. For many years in my life I believed in a very small God. Notwithstanding, the God we worship is a great God who can do the impossible, move mountains, and kill giants. He is the Creator. He is in control of the entire universe as well as our own little world.

How big is your God? For years I postponed my decision to follow Jesus, fearing the consequences. Everything I was afraid would happen, happened. But the great and awesome God we serve made all things work for good for His glory and for my own benefit, as well as my family’s benefit

Moreover, I learned the power of the promises of God. There are 3,173 promises, as someone has said, to meet every need. I do not think I could have made it without these promises. Reading them and claiming them are two different things. Learn the promises. Memorize them. Live by them.

I also learned the discipline of patience and timing. When I accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ and decided to obey Him, I had no idea that that experience would influence my brother and cousins’ decisions or that I would be alive today because of it. In the case of myself being alive, I did not know about that till over 25 years from the time I was beaten and humiliated.

We want immediate results, immediate gratification, immediate payoff. “Be still and know that I am God,” the Lord says. “Wait upon me. Trust me. I will take care of you.” Trust and patience are intertwined. Some of God’s leading we are not going to know about till we hit glory and sit at that great table and hear Jesus explain His leading in our lives

Finally I learned the power of prayer. Prayer is feeling the presence of God. Prayer got Middle East College accredited. Prayer gave me an exit visa. Prayer provided for my needs. Prayer provided a sponsor for me in the United States. Prayer can change your life, solve your problems, bring Jesus closer to you, and help you feel His power and His presence. There might be someone who is struggling with the issue of keeping the Sabbath or obedience or lordship or commitment. I invite you today to break away, take your first step and follow Jesus. He is worth it. He will take care of you.

I have followed Jesus for many years. My understanding of Him and His love have increased over the years. The more I know Him, the more my appreciation and love for Him increase, and the more I discover that He loves me and wants the best for me. More and more over the years I have felt deeply that He is everything to me. He is my brother and sister. He is my father and mother. He is my best friend, the one I can go to and share all my problems and all my joys with. The more I know Him, the more I feel He is my Lord and Savior.

Is it worth it to follow Jesus? Is it worth it to go through trouble? Yes, indeed!

Millions and millions and millions throughout the ages and all over the world add their testimony to mine and say, “Yes, indeed! It is worth it to follow Jesus.” Will you follow Him today and be obedient to Him?

No comments: