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Hopeful images from surprising source

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I showed Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend a picture of my kid. “She’s in Afghanistan,” I said.

The picture is of my daughter Laura. She is not so much a kid anymore.

She’s a Watertown and St. Lawrence graduate, and she even has a “big girl” job. Her words, not mine.

The company my daughter works for is called ACDI/VOCA. I told her, “That sounds made up, not a real company.”

I Googled it; it is a real company. I like its motto. “A nonprofit that means business: Since 1963, we have worked in 146 countries to empower people to succeed in the global economy.”

Laura’s latest role with the company is to assess a project in Afghanistan helping women develop a silk worm farming business. That sounded great until she said, “They are sending me to the project site.”

I have been in Watertown for 10 years, been the pastor to many families facing deployments to Afghanistan. I have been to places of extreme, rural poverty.

All that said, I wasn’t quite prepared for this: “I’ll be there three weeks. It is a safe part of the country.”

Is there a safe part of Afghanistan?

Throughout her stay, images of the country filtered in: a Muslim shrine that shows influences of Buddhism, the great “blue” mosque, local cuisine, a village at sunrise and then a picture of Laura holding the scarves the women made.

When I spoke to Gen. Townsend, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, and showed him the picture, I said, “I am not sure this will make sense, but this was not what I expected pictures from Afghanistan to look like.” The general smiled when he saw the scarves. I said, “Most of the images are rather dreary. This looks like hope to me.”

Gen. Townsend seemed very excited about the picture. He said, “There are great images of hope there. This is what people need to see.”

I thought when Laura sent images of her work, it would be of ragged women in disheveled clothes working with little worms. The scarves the women made where something I would expect to see in a high-end boutique, not a rural Afghan village on the border of Tarjkistan. The beauty and color is so powerful that I found myself feeling hopeful.

Next year will mark 12 years of combat deployment by Fort Drum personnel to Afghanistan. When Gen. Townsend spoke at a Rotary meeting recently, his voice and message were not the weary and dreary refrain of more than a decade of war. His words to the Rotary members were vibrant and hopeful like the image of the scarves.

Both the scarves and the general were a big help to me this week.

As our nation enters into a rather deflating series of political battles filled with foolishness and untruth, I will take heart and have courage. Although we are weary and things may look dreary, we are making a difference; we are willing and able to sacrifice; we will see great things.

The Rev. Fred Garry is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Watertown.

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