Tim J. Hayes slides behind a coffee shop table next to Yousif Shaheen and pats him on the back.
Shaheen doesn’t speak English, and Hayes doesn’t speak Kurdish, but there’s a close bond between the two men nonetheless.
Through a series of events Hayes calls miraculous, Hayes brought Shaheen to Springfield, Missouri, for a surgery in January that restored sight in Shaheen’s blinded right eye. Shaheen, a 27-year-old Yazidi fighter, suffered injuries to both eyes in 2015 while combating the group that calls itself the Islamic State, or ISIS, in northern Iraq. In an attempted genocide, ISIS expelled many Yazidis from their homeland.
For Hayes, the son of two international Assemblies of God evangelists, the reason is rooted in the gospel.
“We want to show the love of Christ and the hope we have in our hearts with people in desperate circumstances,” Hayes says. “My hope is this person can see the love of Christ.”
Hayes, an attorney in Springfield, met Shaheen while volunteering with the Free Burma Rangers, a Christian humanitarian group that helps civilians in war zones. Although he’s a licensed emergency medical technician and a former U.S. Army attorney, Hayes never expected to volunteer in war zones.
There’s danger involved, but both Hayes and his wife, Janis, see this as something of a mission field. They and three of their children, including an adult daughter and her husband, spent the Christmas holidays in a Myanmar jungle helping people caught in civil war.
“Tim could die today going down the highway,” Janis Hayes says of the danger. “God opened this door for us. I still pray a lot.”
Both Tim and Janis Hayes are Evangel University graduates with long roots in the Assemblies of God and many relatives serving as missionaries and ministers. Hayes connected with the Free Burma Rangers through his brother, Stephen, who served for years overseas as an AG missionary.
In several trips overseas, Hayes paid his own and others’ way to enter war zones — including in Iraq with ISIS — to help with logistics, securing supplies, and teaching combat medicine. He has worked to help people in both northern Iraq and Myanmar, as the Free Burma Rangers help oppressed people, such as Yazidis who live in and around northern Iraq.
ISIS launched an offensive that left at least 3,100 Yazidis dead. ISIS also abducted about 6,800 Yazidis, mainly women and children, many of them forced into sex trafficking and slavery. About half of those kidnapped are still missing.
Hayes met Shaheen through Shaheen’s brother, Shaheen Khalaf Shaheen, who served as an interpreter for the Free Burma Rangers. He pleaded for help for his brother, and on follow-up trips, Hayes brought Todd Pierson, an optometrist who attends and serves in ministry at James River Church in Ozark, Missouri.
Four previous surgeries in Iraq failed to heal Shaheen’s vision.
Shaheen Khalaf Shaheen, who had become a close friend to Hayes, died last year after being shot by an ISIS sniper. Afterwards, Hayes decided to try to get Yousif Shaheen a visa to come to the United States, even though he had low expectations. Six months later, Shaheen had the visa. So Hayes bought a ticket for Shaheen, giving him his first airline trip, and Pierson rounded up help in Missouri, including an ophthalmologist to do the partial corneal replacement for Shaheen. All the medical professionals involved donated their services.
The result is that Shaheen can now see out of his once-blinded eye.
As he recovers in Springfield, Shaheen is staying with Niazi Altuhafi and his family, Iraqis who have applied for refugee status in the U.S. After landing in Springfield almost four years ago, the Altuhafis ended up attending Central Assembly of God, where pastors and retired missionaries befriended Altuhafi and his wife, Nahla Mahdi Albazzaz. They came to faith in Christ and were baptized.
Altuhafi says Shaheen wants to help contribute for his stay, but Altuhafi — a retired ear, nose, and throat doctor — won’t let him, calling him family. Instead, he wants Shaheen to see the support that comes from the church and Christians such as Hayes.
“I want him to say, ‘I went to a place, the Assemblies of God, with beautiful people who know I’m not a Christian and they shared with me,’” says Altuhafi. “If we plant a good seed, it will grow. I want him to have the good seed.”IMAGE - Yousif Shaheen (center) received help from Janis and Tim Hayes in order to get his sight restored.