The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Blessings from Baghdad

I was in the gym at Fort Hood, Texas, when our group leader shouted above the din of family farewells and patriotic music, "Secure your gear. We're moving out!" And so we did.

Mike Lembke
Lembke, an ELCA Army chaplain, stands near a palace on a lake in Baghdad.

As I write this I've been here a little more than a week. In some ways the trip, the waiting, the sand, the wind and the gut-wrenching feeling of saying goodbye for a year all seemed natural and familiar. Days and dates meld into a continuum and mission timetable as I get to know the people, the place and the current circumstances.

At this time the news here is all about the Iraqi elections and the U.S. leaving Iraq. There is a great deal of positive momentum for both. It's interesting to arrive in Iraq at the time of the elections and see many hopeful signs of cooperation as the Iraqis go to the polls. I was here in January 2005 to see the first election. This time around, the Iraqi people are electing individual candidates and have a great opportunity to really decide the direction of their country.

But I'm also reminded that there are still many barriers in the country to a safe and secure environment. My daily reminders are actual concrete barriers all over the base. Of course, they are there to protect us from indirect and direct fire. All around the base, around each building, down each road and standing guard around parking lots, these great stone dividers protect — and yet divide and hide. It's a necessary product for a safe environment on the base. But in the world of establishing a framework for friendship and engagement, other barriers — the prejudicial "barriers" of ethnic and religious hatred — are more than an inconvenience. They are a ponderous obstacle to reconciliation, understanding and the growth that comes from listening to the other person's story.

I like the desert, but all of the barriers obstruct any view. So it is with barriers of prejudice that we place between us and others. They obstruct the view so we miss what lies beyond. It is indeed risky to remove the barriers ... very risky. Yet that is what the Iraqis are doing with these elections. They are taking the risk of taking down the barriers, to come out and vote. I pray that their efforts bring a good reward and that these elections will signal a real new dawn for the country.

Thanks for your prayers for our soldiers.


Paul Knapp

Paul Knapp

Posted at 8:32 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/23/2010

Pastor Lembke

Thank you for the good words from Iraq (whether you realize how good they are to me or not) and please know our prayers are with you (and all our people over there) as you do what you must to accomplish your part of what we must accomplish.

 Henry Paul Knapp, MSG, USAF Retired and Dad to PVT Nicholson, Sylvian E, South Korea




Posted at 7:09 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/5/2010

Thank you for your dedication and good work for those men and women who serve our country.

Your prayer at the Nov.10th service was deeply moving and comforting to all of us. Other aspects of your prayer impressed me as well.  At the time, I thought it would be possible to find a copy of the prayer, but my search has been futile.  I hope you will consider including the prayer in your blog sometime soon. 

May God grant you His strength, courage and peace for the journey ahead.



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