Friday, November 30, 2007

Iraq to Jordan


This Wednesday I had the privilege of taking Aras and his family to the airport. We had gone earlier to buy tickets for them and I told them to be at our house at 2:30 and we can go from there. They showed up at 2:00 with one small bag that Aras and his mother shared. Their entire family came along with a few cousins that I had never met before. We all crammed into one car and headed off to the airport.

From that point on, everything was new for them. They had never been to an airport let alone on a plane. I always used to chuckle when the stewardess would go through all the basics of buckling your seatbelt and how to put on an oxygen mask. I guess I never thought of people like Aras and his mother who had never had the opportunity to be on a plane before. I was humbled this day as I walked them through the basics and tried to put their minds at ease.

The whole event was so exciting for me and I was thinking back to the first day I met Aras and how his case was the first case I learned how to handle all of the paperwork. It was exciting to see it all come to fruition. The day was extremely emotional for them. They were anxious about everything. They went to say goodbye and everybody was sobbing. Aras is from a village and this might have been the first time they've had to say goodbye to someone before. For so many people here, nobody they know ever leaves Iraq so the idea of leaving on a trip and coming back is so foreign to them. They weren't taking these goodbye's lightly.

Each one of them took their turns crying over Aras while hugging and kissing him all over. Aras was trembling with tears running down his face and I had to put the camera down because my vision was so blurry from trying to hold back tears. The whole scene was so beautiful.

The airport was kind enough to let me through security and sit with them until their flight left in three hours. I was so relieved to meet another man heading to Jordan on the same flight who spoke a little English. He was so kind and promised me that he would stay with them and look after them until someone picked them up from the airport in Jordan. Later that day I found out that he kept his word even though their ride was a couple hours late because of a miscommunication.

So Aras made it safely to Jordan and has made the long drive into Israel where he will receive heart surgery in a few days! We are so excited for him and continue to keep him in our thoughts. Be thinking of him these next few days and especially his family as they are all just as anxious, if not more while they wait for him and his mother to return.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

U2

This is a new song released by U2 that's been on repeat on my iPod since I heard it. They just released a remastered version of their 1987 Album, "The Joshua Tree." It's incredible. Go get it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

BSSL Latest.

I thought I'd give you an update on some things going on with Buy Shoes. Save Lives. It's getting to the point though where I can't update you on everything going on...simply because so many things are happening that I even have a hard time keeping up! Here's some things that have happened this past week.

Delshad has happened. Delshad is the latest child that Buy Shoes. Save Lives. has helped fund, thanks to you! His surgery is paid for and he's joining the growing list of children that are paid in full and waiting to catch a plane to Jordan.

James has happened. This is James Peel. He's a musician that has adopted the cause and is being a catalyst in getting the word out. He's a spokesman we're so glad to have at our side but he's not just talking, he's using his concerts to raise money for children needing heart surgery. We think that's pretty cool. You can check him out on iTunes or www.virb.com/jamespeel Show him some love!

Art is happening. This week we signed letters that were given out to several artists in the area calling on them to create art inspired by the children of Kurdistan. This upcoming week I'm going to be in the Art Classes at the university telling them about this opportunity. We're planning on showcasing this gallery in February 2008. This gives you 3 months to be a part of it! Write us at buyshoessavelives@gmail.com if you want to know how your art can help save lives.

Cedarville University is happening. Cedarville (my alma mater) has taken up the cause and their student body is planning on completely funding a child before they get out for Christmas break. Because the time is so short we weren't able to equip them with much but they're completely owning it and creating their own shirts and video to help advocate. They're committed to saving a child.

Hey! Unite is happening. They're a clothing company in Texas that is designing a shirt to help promote heart surgeries. They're designing and donating part of the proceeds to help fund surgeries.

...overwhelmed? so are we. Let's keep pushing...giving thanks the whole way.

More Baseball.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Baseballs and Kisses.

This past week we've helped put on a five day baseball camp for children in our area. I've been looking forward to this week for so long simply because I knew kids were involved. The United States Army led up most of it but they asked us to work alongside them. I've been blown away at all the work they've put into it. Whenever I'd hear the statistics of how much money the US has put into Iraq I always assumed it all goes to war...but the world is blind to the millions of dollars they pour into directly helping the people here through projects just like this one.

We went to schools all around the city and recruited children to come and spend five days learning how to play baseball with their friends. The response was overwhelming. We ended up getting most of the kids from the local orphanage. We picked them up assuming they'd be ready to play...we didn't think about the fact that none of them even have shoes to play in.

We had four stations that the kids went through each day. They learned how to throw, catch, hit, run around the bases, and work as a team. I was skeptical at first thinking that their loyalties lied with soccer and nothing else but after the first day a lot of them fell in love with the game.

Today we scrimmaged for the first time and they all had the game down. They were still perfecting how to throw and catch the ball but they all understood what to do. Tomorrow we're having the final game where all 40 of the kids will play in front of their "families", local newspapers and fans we've picked up along the way.

It's been so much fun to teach them to play a new game...but I'm so much more thankful for the relationships that came out of this week. Most of them were orphans; two of my favorite kids were brothers. Their mother had soaked herself in kerosene and lit herself on fire, which isn't that uncommon at all for women to do in this culture as a way of suicide. But that left her two sons with nowhere to go but the orphanage...and not even shoes to put on their feet as they walked there. Each one of these kids had a similar story.

I think that's what made the kisses mean so much this week. We'd be wrestling or chasing each other across the infield and it seemed like everything we did was finished with a kiss on each cheek.

This week was their first time experiencing Baseball...but it makes me wonder what else they experienced for the first time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Aras

Just recently we had eight people join our office. It's been a crazy adjustment for me but I'm excited about how things are changing. The past few days have been spent getting to know each other and brainstorming as a team. We had a day off before we got started so I took the opportunity to go over and see Aras and then go visit a few more families looking for a way to get their children heart surgery.

Visiting Aras was such an exciting thing for me to do. He had no clue that his surgery had been funded so it was so much fun to let him know that his surgery's paid in full and that he doesn't owe anybody anything. He was thrilled to see us show up again and spend some time with him. I think most people assume that people with cameras just show up to take pictures and then you never see them again. That's true for the most part but it was good to show him that we really care for him and want to continue to tell his story.

We spent most of our time filming since we had taken a fair amount of pictures last time. We interviewed his mother this time and got her take on everything. She shared how she's been fighting to save Aras his entire life. They've taken him to so many hospitals and tried so many ways to help him but everybody turned them away. His father had gotten so discouraged that he gave up entirely and realized that his son couldn't be helped. She couldn't accept that so she chose to never give up. So this day was extremely emotional for her.

Her eyes were filled with tears, she couldn't take her eyes off of her son and she kept saying "Thank God we found you...Thank God we found you."

After she shared with us we took Aras to school, which was a good walk from his house. He was struggling for breath by the time we got there. It was so good to see him in his element. We watched him interact with his friends and take part in class. He was shy and wouldn't raise his hand or say anything until the teacher finally had him go up to the chalk board and solve a problem.

It was a good day to spend with him. We hope to continue to tell you his story.

Aras is scheduled to leave in a couple weeks for Jordan, where he will receive heart surgery and hopefully be on the road to recovery. Right now the paperwork is being processed and once that's done...he's able to fly out of Iraq. We eagerly await his departure and look forward to his return. Keep him in your thoughts.

Surely we're the ones being blessed by knowing Aras and his mother.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hearts for Art. Art for Hearts.

This past week I was in a cafe visiting some friends. They were all artists and we sat there talking and passing the time over some tea. As usual, that day's discussion had something to do with art. In the middle of the conversation I threw out the question, "Has anybody here ever used their art to help people?" An awkward silence followed...and then someone spoke up, "what do you mean?"

We started to look at some internet sites of people who had created art that was inspired by a cause or a certain people group. We were looking at a beautiful painting that an artist had dedicated to the hurting people in Darfur. The whole thing was beautiful...not just the painting but just the idea that someone created a piece of art for the people in Darfur. We talked about what it would take to have artists here start making art that could be a voice for the needy and hurting in Kurdistan.

Apparently it didn't take much because a couple minutes later all of them were sold out on the idea. We noticed another group of artists in the corner and we went over as a group and presented our cause. They listened and we quickly gained some more followers.

Just the next day, a newspaper heard something about the local artists being mobilized and they wanted to write an article about it. We did an interview and they told me that nothing like that has ever happened here.

That same day we went to a very famous art gallery in the city. This is an art gallery that is always setting the tone for the other art galleries in Iraq and even in Iran and other neighboring countries. I talked with him about what we want to do...and that was to mobilize the artists to start creating art dedicated to the hurting children of Iraq, especially those fighting heart disease. He quickly let us know that he was behind it completely. He said that he would host the exhibition at his gallery and that we could sell the art and the money would go to the children's surgeries. We wrote a letter together and he's going to send it to all the galleries he's connected to asking them to make the same plea to all of their artists. Then he handed me an external hard drive full of all the art his gallery has ever hosted (over 1,000 pieces) and told me to pick out what I liked and he could bring it back and put it in the gallery for the cause!

Today I ran into another artist friend and she told me that her art professors are requesting a meeting and already told her they would dedicate some of their art to this gallery.

I'm so overwhelmed by the response of artists here! Photographers, Painters, Sculptors, Designers...united in one voice for the children. It's so exciting to see...this is a place where artists just started to have the opportunity to sell their art to make money. Now they're willing to sell their art but in hopes that their art will inspire others and help save lives.

Depending on what kind of response we get, Buy Shoes. Save Lives. may have an art gallery devoted to the children in need of heart surgery, in just a couple months! This is art we hope to share with you and even sell on our site to help raise money for surgeries.

If you're an artist or know any artists of any kind....please pass this news on to them. If you or anybody else would like to create some work of art inspired by Iraqi children in need of heart surgery, then do it! We'd love to use your art to help be a voice for these children.

think outside the box.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Three of Hearts.

This morning KSC was generous enough to send a car to pick me up and take me to visit three families that have children waiting for immediate heart surgery. I went along with one of their social workers and we navigated our way through the poorest parts of the city. It struck me again how all the needy and poor are pushed to the outskirts of the city.

KSC has over 700 children that are in need of some kind of heart surgery. As I was laying in bed the other night I thought it'd be amazing if I could go visit each one of those children and try to tell their story. Now I realize what a huge task that is. It takes a toll on the watch, wallet and the emotions but I'm convinced more than ever that I want to at least try. I really want to meet each child and do the best I can to communicate their story through photographs and words.

To who? Anybody who will listen.


Today we went to four homes but I only met three children. That was because one of the little girls had just died before we could get there. She didn't even have time to have her story told.

The boy above is four years old and by the time he's six he won't be able to walk anymore because of his heart condition. Surgery can fix that.

The little girl I met has a father who is a guard at the local hospital. But the place he guards every day doesn't have the equipment or the skill to help his son.


These are just glimpses of a couple children. Over 700 to go. I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it; ultimately it's up to KSC and if they can help drive me around to see these families. I'm hoping they see the value of it though. I'd love your support. If I'm able to see more families maybe we can all pitch in and publish a book to sell and just give the money back to heart surgeries.

Worth a shot huh?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Haa...


...ppy Birthday to you!!! Happy Birthday to you!!! Haaappy Biirthday...Ms. Potato Head, Superman...and Emmaaaa.

Haaapy Birthday toooo youuuu!!!



This is my beautiful niece who just turned 3 years old!! Happy Birthday Emma! Love you so much! Sorry this is a few hours late...I ran out of electricity last night.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Pressing On."

That phrase could mean two completely different things.

"Pressing on" could mean hitting a button on a remote to turn the television on. It could mean flipping on the switch to your Playstation 3 or turning on your computer. Those things are simple. All of us have pressed on. It usually involves things that are short lived and as soon as you press off...it's over.

"Pressing on" could also mean the complete opposite of instant satisfaction. It could mean persevering under circumstances that seem hopeless in the sight of others. It could mean running as hard as you can after something even though it seems you've been running for ages.

This morning I was reminded of that meaning of pressing on. I went to the opening ceremony of a women center that just opened up about 15 minutes away. It started off as a patch of neglected land and now it's a beautiful building filled with classrooms, dental rooms, art gallery, computer rooms and a kitchen. It was built for the women in this culture who have no way to receive medical treatment, no social activities to go to, no place to be educated or taught how to create things with their hands, no place to meet other women and no place to be encouraged and shown how much they're worth.

This building was started almost five years ago and after thousands of hours and dozens of volunteers it's finally finished. They're going to host English classes, art classes, wood-working classes, computer classes, health education classes, farming classes and so many more. I can't even begin to comprehend the kind of impact this building will have on this community. It's like they've been digging a well for four years and they finally struck water. The ceremony brought in an incredible variety of people...from photographers and musicians to famous poets and military leaders.

It was inspiring for me. Five years. I can't imagine all the work that went into it. All the ups and downs, pains and joys. But now...whatever the cost, whatever the trouble it caused, it's so obvious to see the worth of this place. It was all worth it.

I'm so used to pressing on that sometimes I forget what it's like to press on. So this morning was a shot of adrenaline for me. I've told you that I'm really trying to go deeper in every area of my life. That was a week ago...it's humorous to me now to think how I already started to get discouraged after 7 days.

I've had some great interactions with some friends this past week. I think everyday I was able to meet up with at least one person for a meal and just talk. I'm thankful for that and hope I continue to get in the habit of pursuing people.

We're still pressing on with Buy Shoes. Save Lives. and things are getting more and more exciting. Today I met with KSC again and we cranked out some results. We finally finalized this memo of understanding that we've been wrestling with these past few weeks. It's signed and ready to be put into action. Right now though they're only willing to put their money towards children they've worked with simply because they've lived in Iraq long enough to not trust anybody else. So that's why I'm working on teaming up with a Doctor in India and then another in Jordan to do more surgeries. It's a long process of figuring out the logistics, housing, transportation, and costs of it all but I'm still hoping this will put us in the position where Buy Shoes. Save Lives. can start sending several children a month to surgery. Right now there are over 700 children waiting for heart surgery just in our area. And these are just the ones who could come up with enough money to see a doctor and actually know they need surgery.

700 is a big number. That's a lot of money. But I'm convinced more than ever that we just have to keep pressing on. It may be a while before we get to the point where we can send several children a month but we're taking baby steps to get to that point. It's worth it.

So keep pressing on if you've already started. If you haven't...go find something worthwhile and start pressing on.

Here's a fuzzy pic that one of the staff at KSC took of me and two of the Doctors I've been working with.