Farouk Hammo saw two young men sitting by the side of the road in Simele, an Iraqi Kurdish town with ancient roots where the fertile land is fed from the Duhok River.
"I need some helpers," Hammo told the young men.
"Here I am; I'll work and my friend will do the work as well," one of them responded.
"And so I employed both of them and they worked with me for 107 days," Hammo recounted.
A Christian, Hammo followed the teachings of Christ in treating his Muslim laborers well and providing for their needs. When the work was finished, all three young men went their separate ways.
Hammo, a learned man who earned advanced degrees in Australia, later retired from his work and became pastor of a church in Baghdad.
As a Baptist leader in modern-day Iraq, Hammo pondered for several years about bringing the hope of the Gospel of Christ to the peoples of Iraq. A few years ago it was decided that Kurdistan would be a desirable place for a cultural center with a clinic for women and children, a school, an athletic facility, a seminary and a church building.
On Sept. 24, 2010, Hammo, now 63, went to meet with the governor of Dohuk Province in Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government -- His Excellency, Tamar Ramadhan. More than a million people live in the Dohuk area where Ramadhan was first elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009.
"He told me the whole story and it was him who was employed for 107 days," Hammo smiled, eyes sparkling below dark eyebrows and white hair. "It was him and he told me my full name and he told me every bits and pieces of that story and as if it happened early in the morning."
Describing the happy reunion of the two men some 36 years later, Hammo said "there were 107 stories for the 107 days," and the governor spread a banquet and honored those who came to talk about the new cultural center.
The Grace Cultural Center in Dohuk is the result of a unique partnership between Iraqi, Jordanian and Brazilian Baptists; Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola; and Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government that granted the two acres of property valued at $2 million on which to develop the center.
What Hammo and the others did not know for certain until 2010 was just how God had His hand in the project all along.
"Imagine if I had mistreated him," Hammo said of Ramadhan. "When I came to his den he would have finished us.
"Instead he was so kind," Hammo recounted. "He gave us all that . He was in tears when he hugged me and from there gates were opened for this project."
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (goFBW.com).
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