An Unlikely Friendship

In late fall of 2013, I walked into a coffee shop near Erbil, where I was staying with the World Compassion team in Kurdistan, to grab an Americano.

Miracles can happen when we simply walk in love. The following is a journal entry from our media director, Kevin Bjorklund:

In late fall of 2013, I walked into a coffee shop near Erbil, where I was staying with the World Compassion team in Kurdistan, to grab an Americano. As I approached the counter of the shop, two young men were working furiously behind the bar. With a playful expression, I ordered my drink in Arabic (or at least I attempted to). As I spoke, their countenance brightened. Their faces lit up. They couldn’t believe an American wanted to learn Arabic! I began asking questions about them, and my interest in their lives and culture opened the door for a friendship.

Standing across the shop counter, Dakheel and Jamal began to tell me about their lives. They were both from Syria and had lived as refugees in Kurdistan for around a year. Life was hard, they worked all the time, and did not have much of a life at all outside of Syria. Dakheel was trying to learn English, and he asked if I would be willing to help him in exchange for help with my Arabic. Of course I complied. As I left that first interaction with both boys, I made a commitment in my heart to them – I would make sure I intentionally visited them every time I came to Kurdistan.

I took three trips to Kurdistan between the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014, each time meeting Dakheel and Jamal for coffee and a quick conversation. Our friendship began to grow deeper. Each time I would come in the shop, they would already know what I wanted, and refuse to let me pay. They were incredibly genuine and caring men.

When the team from More Than A Game joined us for the Kurdistan trip in June, we visited the shop on the last night of our stay. The World Cup was on TV, and the shop was buzzing with laughter, cheering, and friendly conversation. The American coaches reached out to my Arabic friends in love, getting to know them and just enjoying their company. Dakheel and Jamal were so thankful to have us in the shop that they covered the cost of our entire team’s ice cream – a huge financial sacrifice for a refugee.

One of the American coaches, named Jason, connected with Jamal over the game of soccer and later told him about the Gospel. While they talked, Jamal told Jason, “I’ve never met more kind people than Christians. You are the kindest people on the planet.” Feeling in his spirit that Jamal was receptive to the Gospel, Jason introduced him to our contact at the local Bible society later that night around midnight. Jamal gave his life to the Lord that morning, about an hour before we left for the airport! Later that day, our contact connected Jamal to a local pastor who would continue discipling him.

What’s amazing about this story is that none of us did anything extraordinary – we just walked in love. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:6, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” How true. God tends to the seed that was watered through love. I truly believe when we genuinely care about people and simply walk in love, we will personally experience these miraculous encounters in our daily lives.

Our contact was ecstatic as he dropped us off at the airport later that morning, even though he had been up all night with Jamal. He told us with a wide smile, “If nothing else happened this week, [you travelling here] was worth it for Jamal.” I couldn’t agree more, and I look forward to seeing Jamal, now my brother in Christ, again in October over coffee.

God is writing encouraging stories in Iraq even in this time of crisis.

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