Love first. Ask questions later. This is the phrase that cut me to the bone when I first cracked open this book. Ask questions later? Um, as much as I would love to, it's not how I operate. I like to ask questions first, get all the information so I know what I'm getting myself into. I value safety and security above risk most of the time. And that's why this book is shattering me...
Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time by Jeremy Courtney is the story of a how a group of ordinary people from the U.S. found themselves living among the Kurdish people in Iraq, funding heart surgeries for the nation's most vulnerable children. As they became immersed more deeply into the culture and were welcomed into homes over tea, they became aware of the shocking backlog of Iraqi children needing lifesaving heart surgeries... in a country without a single qualified heart surgeon. This led Jeremy and his friends to form the organization Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC) to begin a peacemaking effort and start mending as many hearts as they could.
You should know this isn't a book review because I haven't yet finished the book myself. It's so compelling that I'm creeping through, slowly soaking up each page, wide-eyed. This book has touched me personally because my dear sister-in-law, Michelle, and brother-in-law, Cody, work for PLC in Iraq and are a part of the team in this story. For years, we have kept in touch with them across the world and soaked up their stories whenever we could spend more time with them back in the states.
But not until reading this book did I understand the full impact of what is at stake and how this all came to be. Jeremy and his family, Cody, Michelle, and everyone else at PLC have chosen to risk their lives - with their own children - in one of the world's most dangerous places, in order to save the lives of children who have been passed over by anyone who can help them. They practice this radical love in the name of Jesus, because loving first is what He did.
So, how did all of these children get heart defects? It's fascinating and sickening. The extremely high level of children with heart defects in Iraq is credited to several factors, one of them being the chemical warfare under Saddham Hussein's regime, especially on a day when "the sky rained death" in Halabja, a Kurdish city near Iran, on March 16, 1988. I actually wept when I read chapter 2, which details the horror of that day in history. Because of the chemicals sent down from the sky that literally seeped into people's skin and organs and bones, 5,000 people died and an estimated 20,000 were exposed to the poison gases. Those who survived were permanently affected - if they were already pregnant, many babies were spontaneously aborted or born prematurely. The chemicals became embedded in their bodies so much that when others bore children later, even after the chemical rain, their children were born with heart defects.
Can you imagine? I can't. Here in the U.S. we have so many choices. To think of a pregnant woman in her kitchen, quietly preparing a meal for her husband, and then poisonous gases beginning to fill her home...it's infuriating.
Because of the lack of qualified heart surgeons or appropriate facilities in Iraq, these children live with their heart conditions however long they can survive. But just like any other parent would do, the parents of these children continue to hold out hope that there will be some solution to save their child - even begging a stranger from America for help. That's how Jeremy and his team came into the picture. At first, PLC established relationships with doctors in neighboring countries where they transported the children to receive their life-saving surgeries - first Israel, then Turkey. The fact that Kurdish Muslims agreed to take their children to Israel or Turkey is another story entirely...little did I understand the politics and intense loyalties that make it difficult for a parent to choose their child's health over their national or religious pride. But until I've been traumatized by a chemical rain from the sky and crawled to my escape only to be tortured in a refugee camp, I won't judge them for the conflict they felt in making such a decision.
Today, PLC brings international heart surgery teams to Iraq to save the children during their many "Remedy Missions" during which 18 children are provided heart surgeries at a time.
A few eye-opening things for me in reading this book so far:
- There are usually two types of reactions among Americans to those living in the Middle East - misjudgment or complete apathy. I don't want to be a part of either of them. I want to see these people with fresh eyes - those moms are just like me. They want the same things for their families. And they didn't ask to be born into the situations they're in.
- Children are children wherever you go. I saw this in India and in Africa with my own eyes, but the stories in this book confirm it. They all want the same things, really - to play, to be healthy, to be free to soak up life. No child should be stolen that privilege because of a procedure that would be standard practice in an American hospital.
- The subtle, unspoken parallel between "loving first" and physically mending hearts is so beautiful to me. What more tangible way to share the love of Christ than by actually mending a real, live heart?
Please take the time to learn more about Preemptive Love and read this book. Enter the giveaway below, or get the book for free with any donation on the Preemptive Love website. And I hope when you're finished with the book that you'll pass it on. This story needs to continue to be told.
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And now for the book giveaway...
To enter, simply post a comment below answering this one question: What does the phrase "Love first. Ask questions later" mean to you? Is it compelling? Is it disturbing? Is it something you have done before? I'd love to know your thoughts. I'll randomly choose a winner of the book on Tuesday, January 7th.