10 May God’s Light (via Gig Harbor) in Iraq
From Fighting to Philanthropy:
An American soldier’s heart to save the children of Iraq
From behind the door gun emplacement on a Blackhawk helicopter, Sargent Jonathan Webb’s eyes scanned for enemy Iraqis.
Webb concentrated. Though AK-47 muzzle flashes were the most common harbingers of danger, the biggest threat to his crew lie in the form of Soviet-made, DShK heavy machine guns.
While the craft’s metal flooring vibrated under his combat boots, Jonathan noted a peculiar gathering of people… folks who carried no weapons. His brown eyes narrowed to peer through his visor.
Through swirling dust, scores of rag-clad orphans swarmed atop refuse at the largest dump in Baghdad. Their prize? Some food.
Though the smell of hot garbage filled the air, compassion flooded the young warrior’s chest.
And so it was that Jonathan’s destiny was forever changed by a moment of fatherly awareness. This flicker of tenderness became a life mission that took him from soldier, to servant.
On a recent day, the Washington father of four, clad in a black, microfiber jacket and Ray-Ban sunglasses, offered details via straightforward bursts.
“My time in Iraq began in April, 2003.
It lasted for 15 months.
I went back in ’07, for two and a half more years.
I worked for the State Department.”
Jonathan’s sentences slowed, with growing tenderness, when I inquired about his efforts to reach kids.
That season, in country, began when Webb met an Anglican pastor who volunteered with indigenous inhabitants. Canon Andrew White—“The Vicar of Baghdad”—served tribes from within a mortar-pocked, Christian church.
Webb leaned forward, eyes soft, and offered:
“I joined White in providing for the needs of widows and orphans. In time, I told Andrew that we should build a clinic where the poor could come, for free. And we did.
We offered locals dental and medical, and they’d leave with a full compliment of medicines. To this day it is still one of the very best private clinics in Bagdad.”
Memories of one young lady impacted Jonathan the most.
“I met a very poor, little girl with deformed arms. Miriam’s parents did not have money to pay for doctors.
She had recently stopped attending school because other children there bullied her and said God was punishing her and her parents.
Her limbs were eventually diagnosed with a very rare condition that required a team of experts to plan out painful surgeries.
The military doctors were reluctant to help her because they knew it would take substantial resources. I brought her to them, so that they could see how beautiful she was.”
Sweet Miriam was healed.
As increasing numbers of destitute locals came forward, Webb humbly reached out to Imams and Sheiks:
“Let me help you to help your people. I’m not here to take credit. I’m happy to have your people give you all the credit.
You’re already showing me love me by inviting me into your home to have a meal. I want you to know that I love you and that I have gifts for your people.”
At first they accused Webb of being a spy. But, as time went by, trust took root. Jonathan’s influence rose exponentially.
During this portion of our interview, Webb pulled up a picture on his smart phone.
In it, he speaks face-to-face with the Ayatollah Hussein Al Sadr who, according to the Berkley Center at Georgetown University, “is the most senior Shi’a cleric in Baghdad, Iraq.”
I glanced up from Webb’s small screen and implored, “Weren’t you scared?”
A slight grin appeared when he replied, “My first few months there, as a soldier? Yes. But at some point I got used to the danger.”
I subsequently put the same question to his wife, Ann.
She replied, “He never gives off any sense of fear or anxiety so I don’t really worry about it. But one time [when we were on the satellite phone] a bomb went off in the background, killing four people. Jonathan just said, ‘I gotta go!’”
After relaying this story she admitted that, when her husband is overseas, she “goes to bed praying and wakes up praying.”
During visits back, Jonathan was invited to Iraqi government gatherings. This is evident in another photo in which he sits two chairs away from the former Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki.
By 2009, Webb’s Iraqi Children Foundation was officially born to better meet the needs of over “900,000 displaced boys and girls” who are “vulnerable to despair, poverty, and recruitment by terrorists, criminals, and human traffickers.” (www.iraqichildren.org)
As my time with Webb drew to a close, I asked him, “What would you say to the Iraqi children, today?”
He paused before earnestly uttering:
“I love you, and you should be encouraged because I am not a wealthy person. All of the resources that I am bringing to help you are evidence that there is a whole nation full of Americans that are thinking about you.”
Since that day in ‘03, the man whose heart cried at the sight of dirt-smeared children, from the cabin of a war machine, has returned to the Middle East at least a dozen more times.
On each life-risking trip he delivers some combination of food, clothing, medicine, and hope.
Interested in giving? Please visit iraqichildren.org.