Flatirons Men's Afghanistan Trip Day Seven - Saturday, April 28, 2012
This was one day I had been looking forward to for a long time -- visiting Barak Aub. I first learned of Barak Aub three years ago, while living in Texas, after watching Jim Burgen's message online. It was the weekend an Afghan rug was laid on the stage and God used the community of Flatirons to re-chart the destiny of a group of Afghan refugees huddled on the side of a mountain, in this region called Barak Aub...or "Broken Water". The rest of the team was the same. Other than our team leader, Bob Tunnell, this was everyone's first time at this community. We have all heard about it...heard from others who had been there...seen the pictures they had taken...but now...we were going to see it for ourselves.
The anticipation was palpable during our devotional time and during breakfast. When our host stepped into the dining room and said, "Okay guys! Let's go!" we were in the cars and ready to caravan out to Barak Aub before he could say, "Me Too." I lucked out and got shotgun when we loaded up in the SUV driven by the new executive director for our mission partner. The new ED confessed that his Afghan driving skills may be a little rusty, but 10 minutes into our journey...he was bobbing, weaving, swerving and honking like a national. He was also a great tour guide. The new ED is an ex pat who has worked for several different mission groups -- in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has returned to Kabul after a 7 year absence. He was here during the Taliban days and has witnessed (by his own admission) many, many changes since he lived here last and found it a little difficult to navigate the streets and get his bearings due to the changes and development.
As we made our way through the dusty city and out into the country, we were really able to see the progress and rebuilding that is going on in Kabul. The streets are lined with countless (and I really mean, countless) little shops and merchant wagons, side-by-side, peddling everything from meat and produce...to copper wire and bricks. We couldn't get over all the dead animals hanging in the windows. Goats...Chickens..Entrails. It reminded me of pictures I've seen in history books of New York City at the turn of the century. And the people! There are Afghans everywhere! In cars...on bikes...on motorcycles or just walking, weaving their way through the maze and chaos of the morning traffic. Young. Old. Poor. Rich. We could see them all from the windows of our caravan heading to Barak Aub. The Afghans are a beautiful people. Dark, proud and well-kept...especially in light of the destruction and bleak conditions of lot of them live in. Even the ones on the street begging take care of themselves. Most of which have been women, dressed in traditional Kabul light-blue burkas -- covering them completely. You can't see any part of their faces, and only a fabric screen allows the women to see and breathe through. I can't help it. It's a haunting sight. No face. No eyes. The only part of their body exposed is the women's' feet and hands -- one hand out-stretched asking for money...the other holding a baby...always around the age of 8-9 months. Seriously! It's the same all over the city. Light-blue burka wearing women, each holding a baby, hands reaching out and saying, "Please. Mister." It's been one of the hardest things for each of us to process.
Once out of the city, the dust started to settle (a little) and the Hindu Kush mountain range started appearing, almost as if out of a fog. And they are huge! Long's Peak would be dwarfed by the massive heights that stretch across this horizon. The road out to Barak Aub is peppered with open, barren expanses, military installations (with high brick walls topped in razor wire) and shepherds. Yes! Shepherds. There is something Old Testament and biblical feeling about this area. You can easily imagine Abraham and Isaac walking across these plains, coaxing their herds to the spotty patches of vegetation seen dotting the hillsides...if it weren't for the occasional semi tractor trailer broken down on the side of the road or ubiquitous motorcycles...driven by turban-wearing Afghans.
After a good half hour of driving though this part of the country, the new ED turned to us and said, "Here it is, up ahead." all of us craned to see out our respective windows. Up ahead was Barak Aub -- this community that has been so much at the heart of Flatirons and our missions outreach. We could see the low-lying valley filled with little brick homes enclosed by little brick walls. Again, like something out of bible times. I immediately recognized a couple of buildings: the school and the clinic. I have had pictures of these two buildings in my office since I was first asked to co-lead this trip. Our caravan came to a stop within the walls of the school and we were immediately met and surrounded by the locals -- consisting of elders, children and school officials. We were invited into the boys school to help pass out care packages that had been put together by the ladies team before us. Each guy on the team took turns passing out the bags to the students and the looks on the little boys faces ranged from wonderment to outright fear. What must that have been like for those little guys? Sitting in the classroom, doing their A,B,C's...then in walks 10 smiling white dudes...in beards and shalwar kameez...passing out goody bags. The alarms had to be going off! "Stranger danger! Stranger danger!" We spent the rest of the morning visiting the girls' school and the clinic - the only medical facility in the entire valley. It was all a blur. Again, sensory overload.
Clarity came when the assistant director, a handsome...almost regal...Afghan gentlemen in his late 50s stood to talk. We gathered around him and listened to him tell his story...and how the community at Barak Aub came to be. It starts with the assistant director and his trip back to Kabul after visiting his family -- just over the hill from where we were standing. He spoke of driving past this valley on his way back to Kabul and seeing a handful of plastic tents scattered across the valley. And what did he do? He stopped. He stopped and asked what was going on...only to learn that these refugees had been dumped on the side of this barren hillside by the government in Kabul to fend for themselves.
What happened next a lot of us know: our missions partner was informed, people were rallied, support was given, wells we're dug, schools were built and clinics were opened. And why? All because one man stopped. We have a great story like this that Jesus gave us. It's a parable called: The Good Samaritan. Most of us know it...about this Jewish guy who gets beat up and left for dead on the side of a mountain. First, a priest walks by...and does nothing. Next, a temple leader. Nothing. Then, a Samaritan, the sworn enemy of most Jewish people, and what does he do? He stops. The world changes when we stop. God does some awesome stuff when we stop. And all it takes is one of us...just one of us to stop and do something. It took this one stoically handsome Afghan gentlemen to stop...and the world is not the same. It's not same for those refugees...it's not the same for Afghanistan...it's not the same for our missions partner...and it's not the same for Flatirons. The real question for me is this: Is it the same for me...and am I going to be the kind of man who stops?