I am an optometrist living and serving in the Middle East. I examine refugee patients at two humble clinics situated within two local churches. I primarily see Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
One day I examined an Iraqi woman. Her exam was unremarkable, and I prescribed glasses for both distance and near. This woman then told her husband that there was an American eye doctor providing exams at the church – “Maybe he can help you!” I was asked to visit this man in his home because his vision was poor and he was disabled, making it difficult for him to leave the house.
I'm not sure how I managed to find his home because directions and buildings can be very confusing in my city. Upon meeting him, I quickly surmised that I couldn't help him, nor could anyone else. He was blind due to diabetes. His left leg had been amputated just below the knee. Little did I know that this gentleman would become such a good friend.
Over the following months I visited him numerous times, sitting beside him on a simple couch, talking. He liked to talk and I liked the fact that he spoke fairly good English. I guess he had a lot of time to think. We always had spiritual conversations.
Like most Iraqi refugees he was from a Christian background. Unlike the Syrian refugees who are mostly Muslim, the Iraqis are Catholic or Orthodox in faith. They typically have horrific stories about fleeing Iraq because of terrorism. My blind friend was no different.
I heard him tell his story several times on different occasions. Each time he recalled his story he shed some tears. Basically, he lost everything. He shared how his village had been warned that a terrorist group was coming to wreak havoc on their village. He and his family hastily packed some bags and fled just hours before the terrorists tore through. He had an opportunity to return sometime later to their home to see if there was anything that could be salvaged.
But all was lost, everything had been destroyed and looted. This was something he had never planned for. And now he spent much of his time thinking about God. Like several other Iraqis I have met, they escape their home country bitter and crushed, but they then discover God in a new way.
They learn of God's love and faithfulness and often end up having no regrets about how God used such traumatic events to bring them to him.
There is so much more I could tell you about my blind friend – how he would kiss me on the side of my face when I arrived and departed, how he would ask if I wanted tea or coffee.
Before leaving for the summer I noticed the toes on his other foot had become blackened with gangrene. He was in pain. He needed his toes amputated, if not his foot and/or leg. During that visit he mentioned a dream he had. It vividly described how Jesus seemed to be calling him home. Recently, he passed away.
I had hoped that he could see his family resettle in a new country, perhaps in Australia. But his family is still stuck as refugees waiting to learn if their immigration request will be granted. They miss their husband and father and grandfather dearly. I miss him too.
He was my friend.
About the Author: Kurt is an IDEAS Associate and Doctor of Optometry. He has years of experience providing eye-care and optical training in several African countries, including Kenya, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Click here to read more about how hope is being restored in the Middle East.