While many have followed the news of the growing unrest in the Middle East during recent weeks, one local man got to witness it first-hand.
Kevin Poe, a local resident who works at Peak Rehabilitation in Commerce, was on a mission trip helping the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan in early October, when President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
“Of all the weeks to be over there, President Trump decides to pull the forces out of there,” Poe said. “It was just chaos. Our whole agenda changed at that point.”
WHAT LED HIM THERE
Poe and his family had watched a movie created by Frontier Alliance International, “Sheep Among Wolves.”
“It just lit a fire under us to go and be missionaries,” said Poe.
But there’s a process to go through. Poe and his family sent in a resume, got referrals from their pastor and community members, did interviews and talked with a board member for the group. Finally, they decided Poe would do a “wisdom tour,” shadowing FAI workers for a week to see if it was a good fit for his family.
Poe traveled to Iraq on Oct. 4, starting out in the Soran area near the Iranian border.
“Things were going great. I got to serve. I got to do wellness checks. I got to help some of the Peshmerga there (the military),” he said.
The experience allowed him to work in remote villages which have virtually no modern healthcare — from Band-Aids to Advil.
PLANS CHANGE AFTER TRUMP DECISION
Poe then traveled to FAI’s clinic in Duhok, closer to the Syrian border. While there, he was supposed to visit refugee camps, helping people who had fled from ISIS.
But things changed immediately after President Trump announced he was pulling U.S. troops out.
“Even in Duhok, we had started seeing this haze come over,” said Poe. “…because the Peshmerga (Kurds) started burning tires to camouflage themselves from the drones that Turkey was flying into that area.”
Poe’s team refocused, traveling to a clinic right on the Syrian border, stockpiling it and getting it ready to help the refugees.
“Our agenda changed to help the refugees coming over the border,” he said. “And they’re coming over by the thousands.”
That clinic is right on the Syrian border, close to much of the action that followed Trump’s announcement.
“One of the Turkish air strikes hit 50 yards from our clinic and blew up a truck full of PKK members,” said Poe. “Strategic strike, but it was literally right there.”
Poe said they also blew up the mountain top, warning the Peshmerga not to come any further.
TRUMP DECISION WILL IMPACT AREA ‘GREATLY’
Poe expects Trump’s decision to pull out U.S. troops will impact the area greatly.
“Just to have the American presence there was enough. Whether it was a thousand troops or a hundred troops, I think having that presence of mind kept everyone at bay and kept everyone safe,” he said.
Poe added now the Kurdish people are left to their own devices, left by themselves with no one to help.
“The motto is, ‘we have no friends but the mountains.’ That’s what the Kurds say,” he said.
Poe said groups like FAI have tried to offer help in the area, but they may now be in jeopardy.
“Now the NGOs (in that area) are kind of in jeopardy,” said Poe. “If ISIS regains momentum, they may be forced to shut down.”
He said the Kurds just want peace and that they need NGOs and other groups’ assistance given their lack of technology and modern medicine.
“They need someone to be there to stand with them,” said Poe. “And they have never gotten that.”
He said FAI will be there until the last minute, but if ISIS regains control, they may be forced out.
That will also impact Poe and his family, who may have to look elsewhere for opportunities to serve.
“We still want to pursue that, but now the game has changed,” Poe said. “…If ISIS regains control and momentum, I can’t see taking my family and putting them into that situation.”
A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE
Poe said his experience in Iraq changed the way he views his life at home.
“I’ll never be the same, coming back from that experience,” he said.
He said the people he worked with had the best attitudes and focused on God, despite serving in one of the most hostile areas in the world.
“It was very real of what goes on in the world that we hear, but never see, or never hear about,” he said. “People’s lives are being changed daily. Hour by hour, minute by minute.”
“…But they do it anyway, despite the danger.”
Poe added his experience on the Syrian border, specifically, will always stick with him.
“In the Middle East, you don’t know what you’re waking up to,” said Poe. “Day to day business changes on a dime. It is a very minute-by-minute situation over there.… And I got to see that first hand.”