Loving at all costs
How did a former American soldier learn to love and serve his former enemy?
While taking shelter from gunfire and mortars behind an armoured tank, David Eubank shot up a quick prayer as he psyched himself up to rescue a little Iraqi girl called Demoah, who had been sheltering under her dead mother for three days.
Moments later, as he ran towards her while dodging bullets, he cried out ‘Jesus, help me.’
‘It was like if you’re on the top of a roller-coaster, you’re getting ready to go down … imagine if you could eject yourself out on purpose and launch that little car out. That’s what it felt like’ remembers the former US Army Special Forces Officer of this significant moment in June 2017.
‘We were just launching ourselves out into what seemed to be certain death. But we made it up to where the girl was. There were bullets everywhere, but I grabbed Demoah and never let go of her as I ran back. That was a wonderful moment, where I said, “God thank you, we could be part of something good.”’
For David this was just another day at the office. With his organisation, Free Burma Rangers, he’d brought his wife and three children to help the people of Iraq at the peak of the fiercest urban battle in recent history, to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS. The battle went on for nine months. As coalition forces, led by Iraqi soldiers on the ground, slowly pushed ISIS out, the brutality of the terrorists was turned against thousands of civilians as they fled the fighting. Attempting to help would take total commitment.
But David’s military background and his Christian upbringing had certainly prepared him for this challenging mission. The Texas-born son of missionaries, he grew up in Thailand, and had been commissioned as an officer with the U.S. Army Special Forces as well as a Ranger officer. Then, in 1997, he pioneered the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a humanitarian service movement for oppressed ethnic minorities of all races and religions, working initially in Burma.
David’s team had spent the last 20 years helping villagers under attack by the Burma Army providing medical care and relief.
Then in 2015 his family and team came to Iraq to provide humanitarian support on the frontlines.
David remembers what motivated him to come to Iraq back then:
‘We’d been working in Burma in the jungle trying to help people for 20 years. But then ISIS started their attacks in 2014. By early 2015 we were invited to come to Iraq. We were in Burma on a relief mission when I got that the request by satellite. I carry a little backpack satellite. And I read it and prayed and said, “God, if You want us to go, You’ll have to open the door.”
‘When I got that message, we had the Burma army all around us and we couldn’t move. But the next morning they left, and we went right through them. Very quickly, in what was a miracle to me, we not only got out of Burma, but we were able to get into Iraq and up in the Kurdish region.
‘I remember looking out on the plains of Nineveh, which is where Mosul is, and seeing the black flag of ISIS and then praying “God, what are we doing here? I believe You brought me here but we’re jungle people.” And I really felt God say to me “Give up your own way, give up your Free Burma Ranger way and come help these people.”
‘So, we brought my family as well as our ethnic medics from Burma: pastors, videographers and we came first for the Kurds and then the Yazidis on Sinjar mountain. And then after ISIS was expelled from those areas by 2016, we started working with the Iraqi army, which was a great blessing.’
Eubank went on to explain how they overcame the many challenges of serving in such a hostile environment:
‘The greatest challenge right off the bat was ISIS. This was a brutal, dedicated, vicious effective fighting force and they swept over almost half of Syria and about a third of Iraq and seemed pretty unstoppable.
‘The second challenge was what was in our own hearts. How can we love the people we’re helping in a very different culture and environment? And the next was to be useful to the Kurds and later the Iraqis. How could we be useful? So, I would just approach an Iraqi or Kurdish commander and say “Everything I have is yours: my family, my armoured vehicles, my regular vehicles, my medicine, my money: how do you want to use us?”
‘I remember one commander said “Oh, you brought your son, your most precious thing? I give you my country: go anywhere you want to.” And another Iraqi commander said “Oh, you brought your family? Wow, you must think that Americans and Iraqis are equal under God, because our families are here as well.” I said, “Our family’s here to be with your families.” So, I think the biggest challenges were not getting shot by ISIS but keeping our heart pure and full of love and learning how to serve the Kurds and Iraqis.’
Eubank says as they continued to demonstrate this love in action, they started to see many barriers come down:
‘When my wife and children were out there feeding and treating the wounded children who fled the fighting, they thought “Wow, these people love us.” It became a relationship of gratitude that we were helping them. Previously, they were suspicious as to our motives, but that changed eventually to trust and then real love. I remember the last day that we were in the battle of Mosul. General Mustafa came to me. He was the Iraqi commander of the 36th Brigade 9th division. He said “I thought I was going lose my country and I prayed to God for help and what did He send me? The two worst things: an American Christian. But we’ve become brothers. Please go back and tell America we love you and please love us. Thank you for showing us Muslims here what it means to follow Jesus.”’
‘We became a family with the Iraqis, especially the Iraqi army. And that was in spite of my prejudice against them: as a former American soldier, that was our enemy. In spite of how I looked down on them (which I’m really ashamed to admit), I’m just glad they forgave me those foolish thoughts. And that’s a miracle in my heart.’
David’s story of their time in Iraq is told through his book called Do This for Love; Free Burma Rangers in the Battle of Mosul.
So what does David hope people will take away from his remarkable story?
‘I hope people will have a better understanding of what it means to love everyone including the people of Iraq despite the costs. And they’ll ask God how they can live out that love to the people in their own communities.’
By Peter Wooding