We spent over an hour in his hideaway under the protection of his militia. I prayed for him on Kurdish national television and was grateful to God for the opportunity of talking to him about the freedom of Christians in his country.
I had a speaking engagement in Columbus, Ohio the following Sunday, and there was no way to get to Baghdad to get out of the country. There was so much violence in Baghdad that Iraqi authorities had shut down the airport in Irbil. We had run into a major problem. I expressed my problem to the president, and he smiled and said, “[Ahu Musab] al-Zarqawi would love to get his hands on you. They know about your presence here in Irbil, and they will be waiting for you on the road to Baghdad.”
I was startled by the fact that he had intelligence from inside al-Qaeda. He later offered to send one of his cars to pick me up and to take me north out of Iraq up to the Turkish border. My journey would take me through southern Turkey, up to the city of Diyarbakir.
On Friday morning the bulletproof vehicle arrived at the hotel to carry me north three and a half hours through Iraq to Turkey. The highway out of Irbil quickly narrowed from four lanes to a pothole-strip of road about the width of one and one-half cars with a three-inch drop-off to rocks and gravel on both sides of the highway.
We were forced to stop at least five to six times for roadblocks, and each time I had to show my passport. There was real concern that al-Qaeda had penetrated the roadblock guards and would simply phone ahead to the next roadblock and tell them to capture me.
I did arrive safely, however, at the Turkish border. As I climbed out of the president’s car with two big suitcases and a carry bag, I will never forget the sense of loneliness I felt. Here I was, alone, at a border with customs and immigration where not a single person spoke English.
Drug Smuggling in the Desert
It took four hours to process my way through customs and immigration. I found a taxi driver who spoke about four words of English and made me think that he understood our language. He was a surly, insolent kind of man, but I was encouraged that he spoke a few words of English. He loaded my suitcases in his car, spoke to the border guards, and got me out of Iraq, across the river-bridge, and into Turkey.
Customs checked our car thoroughly. They looked under every seat, in every cubbyhole, and in the trunk of the car for contraband. I was immediately relieved when we finally passed through the Turkish customs and we were free to travel northward.
We stopped at the first town in Turkey for rest. I went into a hotel, up to the second floor, while the driver remained in the car. When I came down and walked up to the car, I found my driver pulling out drugs from under my passenger seat. He removed cartons of Korean cigarettes and was depositing them in a large, green garbage hag.
When I walked up to the car, he was startled. I think I came down faster than he expected, and I could tell by his eyes that he was angry that I had discovered his illicit drug operation. Some of the bags were tilled with white powder. I will never forget the sick feeling in my stomach as he continued taking the contraband out of the various parts of the car.
He disappeared with the bag and came back fifteen minutes later with a fistful of money. As we continued our trip northward, I sensed that my life was in immediate danger. I checked my international cell phone and realized that I was picking up a signal from Syria. I placed a telephone call to my office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and spoke to the business manager, Ben Dodwell. Of course, my driver could not understand my conversation.
“Ben,” I said to him on the telephone, “I’m traveling north in South Turkey with a drug smuggler. I believe my life may be in danger.”
I gave him the name of the town on the highway marker and the mile marker along the highway. I encouraged him that if I did not show up at the airport in Diyarbakir within five hours that he was to call Interpol, the European police, or anyone else who might be able to locate where I was.
It would be the easiest thing in the world to kidnap me, to murder me, or to try to extort money for my release. It did occur to me that perhaps the driver was associated with al-Qaeda.
As we traveled north on the highway, I began to pray quietly to myself in the front seat of the automobile. I realized that if he pulled off the highway, I could be in immediate danger.
We were traveling through a barren desert-like terrain. There were mountains with caves in the mountains that I could see. And, sure enough, he slowed down and pulled off the highway. I sat forward on my seat, my body tense, wondering what kind of action I would take if he pulled out a weapon. But I soon realized he was taking a shortcut on a side road, and we soon pulled back onto the main highway again.