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The Peshmerga

(In August of 2014 I wrote a column about the legendary Peshmerga and the meaning of their name. Recent events in northern Iraq, and conversations with church neighbors who are Kurdish, have prompted me to reprint and update that column with the thoughts below.)

The Peshmerga have been in the news lately, and I became curious about the name of this Kurdish fighting force in northern Iraq. They are legendary warriors who have been great allies of the United States. My contacts in the U. S. military inform me that they are held in the highest regard by our soldiers, especially by the Special Operations troops that have been deployed alongside them in the fight against ISIS. Unlike many in the region, the Kurds have provided security to a diversity of ethnicities, including Christians, even though they have no homeland of their own. They also welcome women into their ranks. Over ten thousand Kurdish soldiers, men and women, have died in the fight against ISIS.

It turns out that the literal translation of the word “peshmerga” is “those who confront death.” It can also be translated as “those who stand in front of death.” How could you find a better name for those who serve in the military? One of the reasons we hold our soldiers, sailors, and marines in such high regard is that we understand that when a person enlists for military duty, he or she is volunteering to face the possibility of death on behalf of those whom they defend.

Looking at it from a broader and deeper perspective, every human being confronts death every single day. We don’t ordinarily think about it in this way, but the breath of life comes as a gift on a daily basis. As a pastor, I have lost count of the number of times a church member or friend did not wake up, or the number of phone calls announcing an unexpected tragedy. But Jesus taught us that a heightened awareness of our mortality, uncomfortable as it might be, enriches our gratitude and joy for the daily journey.

Today we keep our Kurdish allies and friends in our thoughts and prayers as they face the possibility of death or dislocation. And we remember and pray for all who live in war zones or as refugees from violence.

Rev. Don Underwood