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.
|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.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers