Hakim and Amira* have a story to tell. And in any Iraqi household, the best stories happen over food.
“Hakim, bring the rice when you come!” Amira calls down the hall in ringing Arabic. A simple tarp lies on the floor in front of her, a makeshift table where steaming bowls of vegetables, fruit, and soup already await. As Hakim returns with the rice, Amira squawks about him forgetting the drinks and for a few moments the couple banter playfully before Hakim retreats to the kitchen. The meal will be ready soon, and with it, their story.
Personalities like Hakim and Amira’s have a way of filling the room. It doesn’t take frills or fine trappings to make their small, sparsely furnished apartment feel as if it were overflowing with the best of love and home. In fact, in the warm glow of their hospitality, it is easy to forget the loss that Hakim and Amira have suffered.
For the past year and a half, the Iraqi couple, along with their two young children, have struggled just to get by, living as refugees in one of eastern Europe’s largest gateway cities. Each year this metropolis attracts thousands of refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, most of whom know what it means to lose everything.
“When we first came to this city we had nothing,” Amira says, clucking her tongue as she holds her two year old son, coaxing a spoonful of rice into his mouth. “Seven hundred dollars to our name. We had nothing when we came.”
By all evident accounts, the couple’s story should be one defined by loss: starting with the loss of their homeland due to sectarian violence in Iraq, and with it, the loss of familiarity and stability, possessions and livelihood. Most visibly of all, they have lost physical parts of themselves. Between the two, Hakim and Amira have just four limbs. Five years ago, bombs in a crowded Iraqi market place robbed Amira of both her legs. For Hakim, the combination of war wounds and a car accident have left him with just his left limbs, though a crude prosthetic foot still gives him limited mobility. Together they sit, side by side on the floor of their apartment, one the hands, the other the feet, always reminded of what it truly means to need.
But loss is not what defines this couple’s story. Rather, Hakim and Amira prefer to dwell on what they have found.
“We have seen Jesus’ miracles,” Amira says with eyes and face alight. As rice and soup begin to ebb away in heaping spoonfuls, the family’s real story begins to take shape, as if the hardships they have known are but a murky preface to a better narrative.
For Hakim and Amira, chapter one began just over a year ago, when an Egyptian Christian first visited and prayed with them. At that time, the family’s state of wellbeing matched the disrepair of their windowless, mold-ridden apartment, tucked away in the Iraqi quarter of the city known to locals as “little Bagdad.” “They were in a really bad place,” says a young woman named Ann**, also seated at the edge of the tarp that afternoon, adding a bit of context as Amira pauses to quell her son’s fussing. “They basically had no windows, no furniture, no food. It was bad.”
Ann is a worker with International Teams who began regularly visiting the couple shortly after the same Egyptian friend notified her ministry team of the family’s situation. From that day on, members of the team began reaching out to Hakim and Amira, building genuine relationships as they sought solutions together.
Around the tarp that afternoon, the results of a yearlong friendship are abundantly clear. “Oh Ann, come you must eat more!” Amira scolds playfully as she heaps unsolicited mounds of rice onto Leanne’s plate. Leanne objects, but her protests are quickly arrested by laughter. “She always does this to me,” Ann says with an affectionate look in Amira’s direction.
Setting down the rice, Amira resumes. “After that we started to read the Bible and know more about Jesus. Members of the team were meeting and praying with us. We started to understand more and more about Jesus as we read about him and prayed with our friends.” In between mouthfuls of food, Hakim adds, “We began asking God to provide for our many needs, and he did. That was when we truly decided to follow Jesus.”
“It’s just crazy what God’s done in their lives,” Ann says. “God has provided for them in the most amazing ways.” And with that, Hakim and Amira commence a flurry of animated anecdotes, their alternating stories tumbling over one another in a rush of enthusiasm.
This is their favorite part, the part that softens the sting of loss and leaves the glow of hope in its place.
It began as a trickle at first, the help Hakim and Amira were unexplainably offered by friends, neighbors, and organizations. But soon it became a flood of ample provision that filled their home and their spirits alike. But more than that, Amira began having dreams in which God would show her whom to pray for or how to advise others. “I saw Jesus standing in a white robe one night,” Amira remembers. “He told me to tell others about Him.”
As it turned out, finding opportunities to do so wasn’t difficult. The couple’s new faith did not pass unnoticed in the community and soon friends and neighbors began approaching the couple to ask for prayer. Amira chuckles as she remembers the day her Muslim neighbor was healed from severe head pain. “She asked me, ‘What did you do to me?’” Amira recalls. “But I told her, ‘It wasn’t me, it was Jesus!’”
“When we prayed, things began to happen,” Hakim says with an unpretentious shrug.
As the stories continue, the ebb of food slowly subsides and sighs of contentment fill the moments of silence. With time, the telling turns to those yet unwritten chapters of the future, which for Hakim and Amira, will happen in Fort Worth, Texas, where the United Nations has agreed to relocate the family. That fact alone is something of a miracle, given what is usually an arduous and protracted process for the vast majority of refugees. For Hakim and Amira, the process took only a year.
“In America, we want to share our story with many people,” Amira says as Hakim rises to clear away the dishes. “Sometimes I can’t believe it,” she adds, wiping the back of her hand across misty eyes. “Praise God.”
Hakim and Amira know that the road ahead will remain a hard one. After all, there are things they have lost that can never be regained. And yet, in spite of that reality, the word “abundance” somehow seems most appropriate on an afternoon like this, seated around a tarp, watching the sunlight slide peacefully below the horizon.
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Please pray for Hakim and Amira as they begin their new life in Fort Worth, Texas. Pray that the Lord would encourage and protect them and that he would raise up a strong community of believers to encourage and walk alongside them. And pray that they would continue to grow in their faith and share their story.
*Names have been changed to protect the family’s security
**A pseudonym has been used to protect ITeams workers