Abdul’s Christmas

by Seth Doty

Abdul and his son, Atheer, were two of my interpreters I had my first tour in Iraq. I spent a lot of time with them on different missions. One time, on a base called Al Qime, while we were waiting for the convoy to offload, I saw Abdul quietly sitting, reading a small book. I assumed it was the Koran. I walked over to him and asked, “Put that Koran down and play some cards Abdul?” He looked up at me, smiled and said, “This is not the Koran Sgt. Doty. This is the Holy Bible. I am a Christian man, not a Muslim.” I was shocked! We had a long conversation about how he went to school in the States back in 1977. There he was introduced to the Christian faith and brought it back to his family where they had to practice their faith in secret.

All he had was that little Bible. It was too dangerous to keep anything else around the house. He went on to tell me how he wished he had more, now that he was able to safely show his family, and not just tell them what Christmas was and how we celebrated here in America. They had never seen a Christmas tree or Christmas lights, or hung their stockings, had a candy cane, or even saw a picture of the nativity scene.

On the convoy back to base I got to thinking. We had so many things for Christmas back at the barracks. It was all just sitting there. When I got back I asked the other squad leaders to ask the Marines to give me anything having to do with Christmas they didn’t want. They gave me a lot of things like toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and all their extra candy. I got some pictures of the nativity scene and some others of Jesus from the chaplain and I even got my hands on a string of lights.

My parents had sent me a stocking with some candy in it, a little Christmas tree and a bag of my mom’s caramel. I put everything in a box to give to Abdul to take to his family. I called Abdul and told him to stop by the barracks before he left for his home in Baghdad for Christmas. He was so happy to look through the box and see all the things that we put together. He placed the box in the trunk of his car, looked up at me with tears in his eyes, smiled and said, “Thank you. Now I can give my family a real Christmas.”

After a few days Abdul was assigned to my squad and I asked him how his Christmas went. He said his family was so happy and, “…it was worth everything to be able to give that day to them.” His youngest son (6 years old) loved the stocking and his wife enjoyed the caramel.

My platoon left the country a few months later. Before we left, Abdul thanked me again and told me he would never forget what we gave him and his family. It was a great feeling to be able to help this man give his family their first real Christmas together.

It didn’t hit me when Abdul told me that “it was worth everything” to give his family that day. To me Christmas was just something that happened every year. I knew what it was, that it was special, that it’s a time for family and friends. But we also get caught up in the presents and the shopping. We all dread the lines and the price of it all. And let’s not forget how hard it is to make it to everyone’s house to visit and exchange cards or presents.

When I get stressed about it all, I stop and think about Abdul and his family. I think about how Abdul gave everything for that first and last Christmas with his family. Two weeks after I left Iraq, he was captured and killed by insurgents. He died helping us free his country so that he and his family could practice their faith openly and celebrate one of his favorite holidays just as we are doing tonight. It’s my wish that we stay calm and not stress about it all. Just enjoy the family and the people you love. I think to myself, what would I give for this?

Photo source: LDS Media Library

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3 thoughts on “Abdul’s Christmas”

  1. Seth,

    You would not remember me, but I used to home teach your family when you were a little boy. I will always remember what a special family the Doty’s were, that they were always an example to me to try to live a life as a good Christian. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to share a very special, and I am sure a very painful, experience with the rest of us. I know sometimes we tend to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, but I want you to know that for me and my family it will always be about the birth of our Savior and to celebrate that birth. I am sorry to hear about the outcome of your friend, but I am sure that your act of kindness will somehow be a memory of Christmas for his family for years to come. You served your country so that we have our freedom, and I am sure that many of us will always be appreciative of that fact. I never really understood the war in Iraq, but somehow I have convinced myself that it was to fight for their freedoms as well as ours. Thanks for sharing.

    Bro. Self

  2. Dear Seth,
    Thank you so much for telling your experience with Abdul, the interpreter. The true Christianity you were taught by your ultra-fine parents shines through your words, yet you are not conceited or puffed-up. Of course I cried to think of Abdul’s sacrifice and the cruelty of his countrymen who don’t see The Light yet, but even more I was touched by your acts of love for him.
    I take to heart your injunction to not stress over gifts and glitz, but to show my family that Love conquers all, being embodied in the life of Christ. My mission (i.e. highest priority)is to be with them in heart, mind, and action so that they will understand that living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to true happiness and joy in this life and the next. For there is continuing life and growth available to us all after we ‘graduate’ from this trail of tears, and Abdul, the military personnel who have sacrificed heavily for us, and relatives who watch over us are all expecting to clasp us in arms of love one beautiful day in the future.
    May your nightmares lessen as the weeks go by, and may the bright spots in your service to our country glow in increasing warmth as the months progress I pray.
    Thank you again for sharing the story and for your years of service to our beloved country.
    Sincerely,
    Sally M. Chamberlain

  3. Thank you for sharing this beautiful Christmas experience with all of us. We in America may need a gentle reminder of what we take for granted.

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