Hannah and Colleen interview Robin, who (with her husband, Dave) took her two kids to live in Iraq. What did this do to her kids? Her family and their relationships? Listen to us ask her all about her stories and adventures from when she and her family lived in Iraq.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!
Here’s a rough transcript!
Hannah: Hey Colleen.
Colleen: Hey Hannah.
Hannah: So this is “Between Iraq and a Hard Place.” Although it kind of looks like a storage closet.
Colleen: Seriously, we are here to talk about life in Iraq.
Colleen: So today we have with us a special guest.
Hannah: So special!
Colleen: Our very own, Robin Dillard.
Hannah: So if you’re a regular listener you’ve met her husband, Dave.
Colleen: He is the one who did the history.
Hannah: Yeah. And so now we get the treat of Robin.
Colleen: And Robin you also have another role at Servant Group besides chatting with us and being Dave’s wife. What are your other roles, here?
Robin: Yeah. So I’ve always done H.R. work and insurance and balancing ministry accounts and really just a lot of miscellaneous things that fall through the cracks. Those are mine.
Colleen: But they don’t fall through the cracks because you are taking care of them.
Robin: Sometimes they do.
Hannah: And you also lived in Iraq for a little while, right.
Hannah: Which is something that I don’t feel like I can really know anything about, honestly. I don’t feel like we have sat down and talked about it in depth. So that’s what we’re going to do today.
Robin: All right.
Colleen: I don’t think I’ve actually sat down and talked with you about it either although I lived there.
Robin: You were there!
Colleen: But yeah we probably saw the same things but from very different perspectives while we were there.
Robin: I’m sure. Yeah. You were new on the field.
Colleen: That was my second semester.
Robin: And I had been working mainly in Turkey and I’d been visiting Turkey for years and at the time we went to Iraq. We’d been with Servant Group for 15 years. But I’d always done work in Iraq from Nashville and I’d never lived there and I never visited there.
Robin: So I was sort of always holding the fort down and Dave had been there… I don’t know how many times at that point just 50 or more maybe?
Robin: Yeah a lot of times. So we always felt like we can’t, we shouldn’t both travel there and leave our kids in America while we do that. And so I was always in America. So it was my first visit when he came home and said he’d been staff director for maybe under five years I guess. And he said I I just really think we need to live there so I can get a better idea of what our staff goes through on a daily basis. And I was like, OK. I wonder how are we going to do that. Because I was doing the Servant Group books and all the finances and he was and he was our executive director and I was like, I don’t know how he could leave Nashville, take our kids, and do that. And so we just started praying about it. And then like other people started stepping up and saying I’ll do that for you and I’ll do that for you. And we were like OK maybe we could do that. The Lord made a way after we decided we’re gonna go. Then Dave’s mom got sick and ended up having to… really the week before we were gonna leave, she got sick. And had to come to Nashville for surgery and she ended up living with us for, I think, three months. So after gearing up and getting ready I was like, OK we’re not going, maybe we’re not supposed to go.
Robin: And then we were OK. So we’ll just hold the fort down. We’ll stay in and we’ll wait before we actually left for Iraq. We had five months to wait and plan and our kids did too. At the time our kids were 11 and 15 and we told them and one was OK. Our son, Jonathan, was young he was 11 he was like, Yeah! OK, good and our daughter Pauli was like I’m not going and you guys go! And we were like, “Well, we’re not gonna do that. You’re coming with us.” And she said, “I just don’t feel called. I do not feel called to go, and I’m going to stay.” And so we had that to work through with her.
Hannah: Now had your kids gone with either of you to Turkey like had they traveled internationally before that?
Robin: I think they had. I’m pretty sure they had. Paulina had gone to Norway with us to visit a Kurdish family in Norway. So she had done that at a young age and I think they’ve both been to Turkey.
Hannah: They knew a little bit at least like what they were getting into.
Robin: Yeah, it’s just Pauli was at that age; she was 15. She was almost ready to drive. She had her friend group. We’d been homeschooling here but she was much more settled into America, I would say. And just did not want to break the rhythm of teenage life.
Colleen: And I remember when I first met her and asked her what she like to do, her first answer was shopping. And I was like, Oh I don’t know how to connect this person. She’s one of my best friends, now. But, at the moment, it was like, Oh!
Robin: And Pauli had been with it. I mean we got we got in a ministry when she was born. That was our first year of doing ministry so we just we we just took her into every Kurdish home. We drank tea. She stayed up late. So she’d been doing this whole thing for a lot of years, going to Kurdish homes, living that lifestyle in Nashville. And so now she was older and she was like, I’m good I’m good in America.
Colleen: But you decided to go anyway.
Robin: Yeah. It was really neat what the Lord had prepared for her because on the first day, I guess it was, she met one of the daughters who was the exact same age as her who she didn’t know. Autumn was the daughter of one of other staff members and they became best friends right then, the first day. And are still really best friends. They’re both 27 now. And so, the Lord just gave her hope, met her right where she was, gave her hope. And when it was time to leave Iraq, she said, I’m not going. You guys can go back home. I really feel I’m called to Iraq. I feel like this is my home. And it was like, it’s not your home!
Hannah: Wait, wait because how long were you guys there?
Robin: Just six months!
Robin: In that six months like the Lord had met her and showed her and really Dave and I thought Oh she’s gonna go back. I mean when she graduates college she’ll be going back. He met her in so many powerful ways during that time.
Hannah: And how about Jonathan. I mean he was excited to go.
Robin: He was excited he was in a total different place. He he was you know life was changing from eleven – twelve years old. He he wanted to be with us. And so he was open to go wherever we were going. And it was actually the time there was harder for him. And possibly maybe because of his age, also. He never really met a heart friend there. He became friends with like our friends and Jeremiah was his great friend and really Jeremiah became his mentor from that time on.
Hannah: How did you get Pauli from that “I’m not going.” to the “Yes you are.” Like was she in agreement when you guys left or was she kind of still digging in her heels?
Robin: She processes differently. She processes in a quiet way and so she was quiet. She was really quiet. But she’s always been open. She she just let us know. I don’t feel called to do this.
Hannah: But it was just, Well, you gotta come with us.
Robin: Yeah, she’s never she’s never been rebellious even now. To today I mean she’s not rebellious. She’s always been open. The Lord had great things for her there.
Hannah: Could you see in the six months that you were there with them a change in them through being there. I mean I know you talked about Pauli is kind of one-eighty. Yeah. Were there any other thing that it’s like that they had to culturally adjust to or even just…
Robin: Yeah. Cultural. I mean it was a huge deal like in America used to getting in. They’d get in a car with me we go run our errands you know whatever. Well in Iraq at that time, especially, you did not do that. Like we hung together as a family. So when like what happened in the car with me and going to the bazaar to pick up our you know our household items. That was a huge adjustment. So we traveled really only as a family. Every day we’d go to the school. That’s where most of our staff was. Dave had classes that teach. I had a class I was in. Pauli he was teaching a class. He was teaching art there. Really. Yeah. So right away
Colleen: She was great!
Robin: Yeah. She dug in and she was she was one of the teachers. So that’s what I did.
Hannah: So elementary?
Robin: Yeah. It was young kids maybe third – fourth grade. But at that time I mean there wasn’t much art instruction inside of Iraq. So what she brought to the table through what she had been learning was a lot. You couldn’t really find an art teacher. They didn’t have any materials. They weren’t familiar with teaching art from you know from the very from the vocabulary of art. And so she brought this great, just the very beginning, to give confidence as young kids and so she had a job every day. She did that. And Jonathan would be with Dave and in the music class because David was teaching mandolin and Jon was good at mandolin. So the two of them sort of handled the music class.
Colleen: Yeah. And you were also still Homeschooling them both, right?
Robin: Yeah. So then we would… it seems like some days we would stay home and we just homeschooled and David went. And then other days we all went. So it was sort of a combination.
Hannah: Do you think that experience of all of you having to be together all the time changed your family dynamic?
Robin: Yeah yeah.
Hannah: Like long term?
Robin: Oh my goodness. Yes. When we got back they both of them did not like being back in America and voiced it often. One of the things they didn’t like that was funny was getting in the car and running errands. They just said we’re done with that. We’re not doing that anymore. It’s too busy for us. Like we cannot get our bearings. Like in Iraq, everything is very slow and many many times they were just sitting drinking tea with whoever was coming over. They got used to that pace of being at home and just going to the school and then you come back and you’re having tea with your neighbor or with the Iraqi people so in six months they had settled into that lifestyle. When we came back everything was just chaotic. Actually to all of us, we thought who can live a life like this in America. Right. You guys notice that too.
Robin: Is that overwhelming. It was easier to adjust going to Iraq than for us to adjust coming back to America. In Iraq, one of the things that we didn’t have a lot of was power. And so every night it went off and we would light the candles and play card games and talk and have our tea and so when we got back to America one of the things that we would do, David would go out and turn the power off in the house.
Hannah: Really? That’s awesome!
Robin: It was on Fridays and they looked forward to it and we had no power on Friday nights. We lit the candles and it was sort of the compromise, OK we are slowing down and it met us all. It was very sweet for us as a family, you know.
Hannah: I just love that’s like the opposite of most American families to have a day where you don’t, an evening even, where it’s like OK we’re not going to have any electricity or internet or any electronic anything. Most kids would be like, Nooo! But I love it your kids were good with that.
Robin: They realized that they needed it. We all needed it.
Colleen: Are you wondering what to do with your life? We’ve got some ideas. Come check them out at www.servantgroup.org/Iraq.
Hannah: Is there anything that you can think of that you wish that you had done differently in both the transition to or living there or transitioning back?
Robin: We had a lot of things shipped over that we thought we were going to need with our kids. It was too much stuff and we didn’t really need it. I think Dave had been there so many times. He was he was overcompensating now to bring his family there. And we were shipping books at that time over and so there was room in the container and he’s like I’m buying stuff for my family and we’re gonna ship it over and really we didn’t need it.
Colleen: What kinds of things?
Robin: Just you know like we went over there and it was winter and we shipped extra coats and extra layers, boots, just it was too much. I think he would say that, too. It’s one of the things we realized we were sort of covering ourselves, like, Oh I’m sure we’re going to need these things. Maybe God’s not going to know we need these things. Let’s just buy them here we’ll ship them over and of course He provided for us every need we had.
Colleen: Anything funny happened with your kids while you were there?
Robin: Oh gosh, yeah. We had lots of funny things that would happen.
Colleen: Because I feel like adults make enough cultural faux pas. That kids would probably make even more.
Robin: Yeah! Here here’s where the funny things that Dave and I both discovered. In our house there was this gate, I mean gates are big in Iraq. So it’s like you had a door with a gate and then you go into this little area that was no more than maybe six seven feet and another gate. It was like a double gate so you’d have to go through both gates to get into the house. And so the kids would start acting up. And David would like, Get in the gates and we put them both in those gates, corridor. It was just a quarter six seven feet but had gates on both sides. And he closed the gate and they’d be in there together and be like, OK you have to work this out, you can’t come out.
Hannah: Like a prison yard!
Robin: It was sort of the gate time out. Some of the funny things I guess was they both had jobs. Jonathan’s job was to go to the top of the roof and check our water supply. You know in Iraq they had these big holding tanks for water and we didn’t always… sometimes we’d run out of water. And so his job every morning was to get up on the top. He’d peer in there and let us know how much water’s left. He took great pride in that job. Pauli also Pauli had a job and hers was to get the the weather forecast for the day which is always hot and hot and sunny. No. Cold.. Oh yeah. Lots of sun. Oh well it was really cold so it’s like it’s gonna be whatever and Celsius today. And so they both had jobs and they learned how to sort of do life like that. And some of the funny things when we did go out as a family like to the grocery store there wasn’t much in Iraq at that time as far as groceries go. There was like the neighborhood stand that you would buy your eggs and your bread. And then the main grocery store had these grocery carts that all four wheels swiveled and so was like who in our family is going to get to push that thing cause it wouldn’t go any way.
Hannah: It would go ALL the ways!
Robin: They’d just be like turning, turning, turning. And so a lot of it was like, Why did they do things like that. Haven’t they figured out a grocery carts yet. And it was just like, it’s sort of funny for us when we took trips out. One of the funny trips Dave took Jonathan, we weren’t there very long. But Jonathan was in this whistling phase where he just whistled all the time. David was going to take Jonathan to go get a violin. He hadn’t learned how to play the violin. And Dave thought, OK this is going to be a good time in Iraq to learn how to play this instrument. So he said, I’m taking him to the bazaar. We’re gonna get a violin. Off they went. They had the violin. They got the violin in the bazaar. They strapped it to John’s back. They made their way back home. They were walking. And here they are this this guy that’s six foot five. He stuck out in a horrible way. You know from America, six foot five and his son with the violin strapped to his back whistling the whole way.
Colleen: People don’t really whistle there unless it’s like cat-calling or like attention getting in some way.
Colleen: So here they are walking back from bazaar and Dave is going, Jonathan stop whistling! You’re going to stand out.
Hannah: Like yeah. I think people probably noticed them.
Colleen: … regardless of the whistling.
Robin: Yeah, the meat market… we used to go the meat market you know to get our weekly supply of meat and you know it was just the butcher on the corner. You know he was missing about three fingers and he had this big cleaver in one hand in the meat hanging up you know and he would be smoking a cigarette and just banging on the meat. The ashes were flying everywhere and we’d bring the meat home and we’d open it up and of course it still had hair from the animals and the kids would be like. NOOO! Hairy meat.
Hannah: Was there anything that they were just like, yeah I’m not going to eat that or do that?
Robin: Like there are new things like the meat tasted really different because it was really fresh. So we all sort of had to get accustomed to that and no one knew what kind of meat it was. They just called it meat and so you’d say, I want some meat. Whether it was lamb or goat or beef, I don’t think it was usually beef it was usually a lamb. Because we did everything as a family, I think we all just sort of adjusted together.
Hannah: Do you guys reminisce about it together.
Robin: Yeah, We do. Cause it was really one of the best times of our lives. I mean I I tell folks now when they’re raising their kids if there’s any way you can get into a different culture with your kids you should do it. Don’t be scared to do it. You just make you make that memory together and you had to adjust together. And like I said we just did not have power. I mean every day the power would come on and you’d hear that beep beep beep but it was the the signal the power was coming through and we’d all be running to get all the right things done. Like if there was laundry to be done, we’d be putting loads of laundry on, or maybe it was cooking whatever it was it’s like that was the sign. Beep beep beep and everyone in the whole house would be running.
Hannah: Get things done!
Colleen: We called it our happy power dance.
Robin: It’s very happy. It was a privilege like you realise once you heard that beep. This is the privilege of a power coming to you because otherwise it was dark and cold and you could flick the power on or off as many times did you want to at the light switch cause you couldn’t get over that habit. Right. But nothing would come on.
Colleen: After a few years and do you get over that habit.
Hannah: It’s true.
Colleen: You walk into realising you don’t turn the light switch on at all until your new team member comes in and is like, Um, can I turn the lights on and you’re like, Oh yeah, yeah, we do have power now, don’t we. I could have done that.
Hannah: That’s the thing that still happens in our house, actually. That we just forget to turn the lights on. We’re doing other stuff and we can see.
Robin: It was a great privilege to get power during those years that we were there.
Hannah: Yeah, thanks Robin! Thanks for coming in and talking us. Are there any other like little secret Pauli stories that you want to tell us?
Hannah: Or funny things that you were like, Oh this story is so hysterical it’s not related to anything but I need to tell you.
Robin: OK. Well one of the things I feel like this isn’t funny I just feel like this is what God does. Sometimes he has us really work on things that we don’t know where they’re gonna end up why he has us working on him. One of the things that happened to us when we were there… years and years before we had done a worship album in Kurdish. And we did it in Nashville. We did it really with primarily with our staff. Dave was doing a lot of the music. Another one of our staff knew Kurdish and he was a singer and he was singing them. The songs were written by Kurdish people overseas and so we brought it back to Nashville. Actually, we did it in this room that we are in right now.
Robin: And then those CDs were sent out all over the world. And so one of the first things that we were able to see was we went to a Kurdish church and they were singing those songs and I just was weeping because I had no idea I’d never experienced it. I just heard it from an American perspective. And when I saw it on the field I just, I just couldn’t believe it. So that was a really powerful thing to witness. The other thing is that I’d been working on the schools, choosing curriculum and training teachers and for years, I guess for five years before. The school started like five years before we even went there and so this was my first opportunity to walk into that building and actually see what I’d been working on for years and it was just overwhelming to see this all the hundreds of kids running around and sitting in their desks you know and learning and and so that was just something else that I feel like there’s another reason to be over there like to actually see the fruit of our labors was really a neat experience.
Hannah: Yeah that’s awesome. And I think a perspective that someone like me or Colleen wouldn’t have because we went pretty much cold turkey into Kurdistan.
Colleen: So take your kids to Kurdistan!
Robin: The next plane is leaving!
Colleen: You can find us at Servant Group International on Facebook or Instagram or on our website at servantgroup.org.
Hannah: Yeah. And if you have a question that we haven’t answered yet, send us an email or Facebook message. We’d love to hear from you! Thanks for listening.