I grew up in Iraq as the third oldest of eight siblings. My family was untraditional. My mom was Muslim, and my dad was Catholic. They didn’t force any religion on their children, in part because they didn’t take religion very seriously themselves. My father was a wealthy businessman, so we lived comfortably in a large house, blessed with several vehicles, a housekeeper, and more than 250 sheep.
When I was around eight years old, my father’s business began to struggle. The stress from his work made it unpleasant to be around him. He started drinking and hanging out with people who were a bad influence. About a year later, he was getting into trouble with the police on a regular basis. He would end up going to jail roughly 20 times.
His final stint in prison came after the government found out he hadn’t completed his three years of required service in the Iraqi army. He had joined the army for a year during the Iran-Iraq War, but then he ran away.
As punishment, he was sentenced to one year in an underground prison, where he endured complete darkness, except for two minutes above ground each day. There was no shower, and food and water were scarce. Broken from suffering, he grew desperate and cried out to God.
And sure enough, God began profoundly changing my father’s heart. My family noticed a huge difference when he returned from prison. He became a hard worker, less selfish and an overall happier man who always had a smile on his face. As an example, one week after his release, my father and I went shopping for clothes. We ran into a man wearing tattered clothing who was obviously homeless. My father had compassion for this man and, stripping down to his underwear, gave away the clothes he was wearing. He said, “He needs these clothes more than I do.” I stood in shock because of his generosity. I knew then that my father’s life had been forever changed.
After that incident, I asked God silently if he truly exists. I also prayed, “Please don’t punish me like my dad, but help me to be a good man and seek you.”
Into the War
At age 19, I completed my required training in the Iraqi police academy. I thought I had signed up for five years, but when I looked at my paperwork, the length of the commitment had been changed to 25 years. I was upset but couldn’t say anything for fear of being killed by the government.
In March 2003, my father woke me up to welcome the American soldiers who invaded Iraq. Because my family has always had deep respect for the Americans, I decided to go to Tikrit and join the United States military police. I worked as a security officer at a police station and also as an interpreter, since I knew both Arabic and English (without being quite fluent in the latter).
A few months later, SWAT instructors from the US military police were recruiting Iraqi police members, and I was among those chosen for training. I was very excited. This was my way out of the Iraqi police force, and I was also glad to be working more closely with the United States.
In the spring of 2005, we awoke to what we thought was an earthquake. The building was shaking when we heard a loud explosion from a car bomb. The lieutenant sent us to an area that wasn’t covered by military personnel. I was assigned to direct traffic and inspect suspicious vehicles. After 15 minutes, one such vehicle came in my direction. I motioned for it to stop, but the car kept coming.
I was preparing to shoot at the driver when the car—now about 15 feet away—suddenly detonated. I flew into the air, fell to the ground, and crawled to a curb, where I shielded myself from shrapnel and soldiers shooting in my direction. Once I heard “cease fire,” I examined my body for injuries. I was shocked that I was still alive, with no missing limbs, cuts, or burns—only one bruise on the side of my knee. But my head was hurting from the pressure of the explosion, and I was disoriented when I got up. I looked around and noticed the suicide bomber’s limbs scattered around. It was a brutal, bloody, disgusting scene.
While waiting in the hospital for an evaluation, I reflected on what had happened that day. I felt certain that the God who created heaven and earth was responsible for saving my life.
An Intriguing Book
In 2007, I got reassigned to the Army’s 82nd Airborne division. And as soon as I met Sgt. Scott Young, I realized there was something different about him. He had a book in his knee pocket all the time. Every time we had a break, I observed him reading, and I was intrigued.
Scott told me it was the Bible, and I started to read it every day for myself. I kept going back to Scott to ask questions about what I was reading. I was truly excited to have a mentor. To make this story even more incredible, Scott hadn’t even been scheduled to deploy to Iraq. But by some mysterious providence, he was deployed to Samarra, and then his company got reattached to my unit. How awesome is our God!
When terrorists killed my father a couple months later, I was angry at God, but he continued to minister to me through Scott. One day during a military mission, I went to Scott and told him that I hated myself, and that I didn’t want to be me anymore.
I asked, “How can I become a Christian?”
Scott told me to go into a quiet place and pray. He said I should tell Jesus that I wanted to change and become a Christian. He also said that Jesus would come into my life, and that gave me hope and encouragement. So I prayed a heartfelt prayer. I asked Jesus to come into my life and change me, that I might be embraced as God’s son.
The next morning, the whole military company noticed a change, just as I had noticed the change in my father after his own conversion. I had a smile on my face, and I wasn’t as mean as before. God had worked a huge and powerful transformation.
Two weeks later, I packed my belongings and flew to Baghdad. When I joined the Army, there had been an agreement for interpreters that if you served at least two years, you could move to America and become a citizen. And since I had worked for the US military for over four years, I knew I was putting my life in danger by remaining in Iraq.
While in Baghdad, my mother, younger sister, and younger brother came and said their goodbyes. We talked about the future, what it looked like for them and for me. My family knew they would never again see me in Iraq.
After a short period living with my SWAT instructor and his family, I moved in with Scott and his wife, Meagan, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Here, I started to attend Navigators Bible studies. I was challenged to memorize Scripture, study it in depth, and make myself accountable to others in the group. During almost a year living with Scott and Meagan, my relationship with the Lord deepened and flourished like never before.
Today, I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with my wife, our young son, and a newborn daughter. Last year we sensed a calling to begin a ministry. As I share my testimony at churches and military bases, and with veterans groups, I give praise and thanks to God for saving my life—and drawing me near.
Abbas Hameed is the founder of Hameed Christian Ministries. He became a United States citizen in 2011.
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