October 31, 2015

Note: This is an abridged excerpt from my book, “Hero’s Highway” Amazon 2015)

When Jesus commanded his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” was he also thinking of those who are trying to kill you?

That was the question we faced at the combat hospital where I served in 2009 in Balad, Iraq. Our rules of engagement were to treat all patients: U.S. service members, civilians and even enemy combatants.

One day in March 2009, those rules were severely tested when our hospital received two critical patients. The first was a U.S. soldier with a bullet lodged in his head. The other patient was an insurgent who was stable, a tourniquet skillfully applied to his leg wound.

The trauma team found that the soldier had sustained what appeared to be a fatal injury. Most stateside hospitals would have dismissed him with comfort measures and prepared the family for a death.

But not this hospital, not this staff.

They went full-court press and sent the soldier into the operating room where our neurosurgeon searched for the bullet. When she found it, she announced what she’d likely known before surgery: the wound was inoperable.

The soldier wouldn’t make it, so they called for their chaplain. For me. I donned a mask, gown and gloves and pushed my way through the swinging OR doors.

Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the remnants of an all-out effort. Tubes, IVs, bags of blood, bandages and pharmacological equipment and monitors were strewn about the room. The rusty smell of blood was impossible to dismiss.

The staff paced the room, leaving bloody stains that traced their sacred struggle to save a life. I didn’t have to bring God to the OR, he had long preceded me. His footprints were everywhere to prove it.

Then I saw something I will never forget. Blood was pouring from the soldier’s head like a faucet. For a moment I held my breath, but the surgeon resuscitated me with a request.

“Chap! Our boy isn’t going to make it. Can you say a few words?”

I breathed again and found a prayer to reach a grieving staff. After saying my “amen,” someone sarcastically suggested I should also pray for the insurgent in the adjoining operating room.

The insurgent with the bullet in his leg was a sniper, and he’d likely caused this carnage. Now that man was receiving the best medical care possible from the same people who were grieving the loss of their fellow soldier.

You learn a lot when you care for your friends, but you learn a great deal more when you care for your enemies. As I heard one of the doctors say, “This is Geneva Convention 101,” in reference to the requirement to treat wounded combatants.

Jesus summed it all up in the Sermon on the Mount: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy’?

“I’m challenging that,” Jesus flatly stated. “I’m telling you to love your enemies. … If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” (The Message, Matthew 43-44, 47).

This trauma team didn’t settle for “run of the mill.”

And just so you know, neither did the soldier’s battle buddies; they were the ones who had skillfully applied the life-saving tourniquet to the enemy combatant.

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