Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I was once again away from my family. In all reality, I was a bit peaved by it but, of course, I had to put on my best game face because what good is a Chaplain with a bad attitude? So I made the best of it. However, I wasn't actually all that thankful. Why should I be. I'm away from home for the second year running, sleep is a fleeting activity, dry turkey in a chow hall full of dusty people in the middle of a war torn desert is a far cry from Tina's home made stuffing and mashed potatoes. Gee, thanks! I have ample reason to complain and put aside any vestiges of thankfulness. Don't I?
Well, this being a holiday and me being a chaplain provided all the ingredients necessary for your average compulsory holiday worship service. There are currently two other chaplains here with me, Ron Webb and Jeff Jay. So the three of us put our heads together and came up with a simple game plan, Jeff would lead in a couple of songs, Ron would present a meditation or sermonette relating to thanksgiving (he did an excellent job) and I would polish off the evening with communion. Fellowship afterward would include pie and coffee and some good old conversation. So, we set out early in the day to implement the aforementioned worship plan.
At this point in the story I'd like to introduce the reader to Rami and Fami. They are brothers from the local community. Rami is eleven years old and Fami is about nine. As we were preparing for the evenings festivities of forced fun I had a nice little conversation with Rami. He wanted to help me fold bulletins, so I showed him what to do and as we folded, we chatted. His English is broken but understandable and when he encounters a word or concept he doesn't know the word for he uses hand gestures rather effectively. I had heard rumors about his situation but they were unconfirmed so I decided to confirm them. "Where are your mom and dad?" I asked. In his own broken way he launched into his story.
Rami and Fami come from a family with 5 boys and one girl. At some point in the past his father left, never to return. He may have simply abandon them or he may have been killed by the Hussein regime. Either way it was very clear that he would not be coming back. So their mother was left to raise them. Of course, Rami and Fami being the oldest sought work to help their mother.
"Where is your mom now?" I asked
"At home" came the very simple reply.
"Do you go home at night." I queried, half knowing the answer.
Rami explained that he sends all his earnings home to his mother. He used to live with his mother and siblings, but there were bad Iraqis that would shoot all the time and explode things and he couldn't sleep very well. So now he stays on compound somewhere.
"How do you sleep now?"
Holding up his fingers in an "OK" fashion, he said, "Very good!" Then he added. "If I go home the Iraqis..." At this point he gestured by making a cutting noise and drawing his little hand across his neck. So Rami, 11, and Fami, 9, have a price on their heads for working with the Americans. When I was nine the price on my head was self imposed and valued at the price of one large orange that I owed my older brother.
Later in the evening, as I celebrated the Lord's Supper, I was thankful. For my freedom, for the chance to share that freedom with others who have none, for my family, for my job, and especially for my salvation.
It's amazing the perspective one can gain by having a conversation with an eleven year old.