Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Nothing Unusual Ever Happens Around Here

What follows is an inspirational Christmas commentary from Dr. Ray Pritchard's web log by the title of "Nothing Unusual Ever Happens Around Here." I thought that this would be a good setting to share my family photos from Christmas 2006.

Nothing Unusual Ever Happens Around Here
By Dr. Ray Pritchard

Bethlehem, December 25, 2000 Years Ago--It's been a quiet day in our little town. Local police reported no suspicious activity in the last 24 hours.

The Greater Hebron Chamber of Commerce said yesterday that they project a 50% increase in tourism next year as a result of the decree by Caesar Augustus. Since Bethlehem is only five miles south of Jerusalem, we can expect a steady stream of travelers. Abraham ben Sirach, manager of the Bethlehem Visitors Bureau, announced that the annual Judean Shepherds Convention will return to town for the fourth straight year.

Meanwhile area tradesmen report a booming business. The local inns are booked solid for the next few nights. If you do not have a reservation before coming to Bethlehem, forget it. You'll be sleeping under the stars. Jacob Samuelson, proprietor of the Bethlehem Inn, reported that all his rooms were reserved six months ago by a fig-traders caravan from Beersheba.

The local Rabbis council met yesterday to discuss the appearance in Jerusalem of three visitors from Persia. Reportedly, they told King Herod that they were seeking someone born "King of the Jews." When the scribes told the king that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, he appointed his top aide for Jewish affairs, Michael Rosenberg, to investigate the matter.

No one seems to know where the three visitors came from or why they made the trip. One of the foreigners referred to a certain "star in the east" that led them across the desert. Soon after their interview with King Herod, the three mysterious visitors disappeared. Some say they came to Bethlehem, but that seems unlikely given the shortage of rooms. Probably they decided to vacation in Jericho for a few days before returning to Persia.

In an apparently unrelated event, several amateur star gazers reported a bright light just after sundown. It suddenly appeared on the horizon and seemed to be moving south from Jerusalem. Rabbi Hezekiah Amot dismissed any possible connection with the "star in the east," saying, "If the Messiah were about to be born, I'd know all about it, and I haven't heard a thing."

Finally, we should report that a baby was born early this morning. A young couple from Nazareth arrived in Bethlehem late yesterday to enroll in the census. The man, a carpenter named Joseph Jacobson, brought his pregnant wife to the Bethlehem Inn at about 6:30 p.m. Since the caravan from Beersheba had taken all the rooms, they were offered space in the stable area behind the inn. Mr. Zvi Rivai, police officer and local history buff, helped them clear a spot amid the cattle and the donkeys.

The expectant mother gave birth to her son sometime around 1 AM. Her husband assisted in the delivery and then helped her wrap the child in strips of cloth. The father and mother told our reporter that they will call their son Jesus. They plan to stay in town for a few more days before traveling briefly to Egypt and then back to Nazareth.

That's the news from Bethlehem. Nothing unusual ever happens around here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

News From Rick Ochoa -- Firefight in Baqubah, Iraq

Here is the latest news from AFA employee Rick Ochoa in Baqubah, Iraq. That is Rick with his gun aimed in the photo at the right rear of the Humvee.

December 20, 2006

Hey everybody,

Merry Christmas from Iraq! Well you never know what’s going to happen when you go out on a mission! Last Saturday we went to a neighborhood and after searching it, we passed out candy and school supplies to the little kids. Yesterday we got into a hell of a firefight that lasted for almost two hours resulting in 5-6 bad guys killed!

We went out for a supposedly easy search mission in a different neighborhood. As we were traveling to the objective we took some moderately heavy sniper fire and pushed through that. Upon arriving at the objective we found it deserted. We dismounted some of our guys in order to begin the search. But within a few minutes we were taking well aimed coordinated fire from three sides. Then an RPG hit one of the Iraqi vehicles behind me in the muffler (no damage). Next a mortar round (the first of 5-6) hit about 40 yards in front of me. By now machinegun fire from directly down the street was pouring in.

The decision was quickly made to take a nearby three story building for the high ground advantage. The four of us who had dismounted moved into the building on our left while our two vehicles were putting out suppressive fire down the street and to our right. Once we were in the building CPTs Holditch and McEwen went up to the roof with Doc Curry. They began calling in artillery and helicopters to take out the mortars shooting at us. Meanwhile I was directing the Iraqi soldiers on the 1st and second floor to keep up effective suppressive fire from the windows and back terrace. About then one of the Iraqi soldiers got hit in the arm but after Doc dressed his wound he picked up his weapon and got back in the fight.

In the confusion of the fight the Iraqi commander ordered his vehicles to pull back and that left the four of us in the building with a squad of Jundis (Iraqi soldiers). Back down on the street our two vehicles were disabled by small arms fire to the radiators and oil lines. (There were 46 bullet holes in one alone.) Our position was untenable until we could get reinforced or get helicopters on station. So the decision was made to exfiltrate the building. We then had to make a mad dash out of the building and back up the street to our downed vehicles with the wounded Iraqi soldier. The vehicles couldn't come to us so we had to go to them. (It was a good sixty yard dash under fire.) Meanwhile the gun trucks though disabled continued to pour fire at our attackers killing several.

Finally the Helicopters arrived on scene and so did Coalition reinforcements with some Bradley Fighting Vehicles and we finished off the enemy, secured the neighborhood and searched it completing our mission. A large weapons cache was found in the vicinity as well as several dead bodies. Several other Iraqi soldiers got wounded including one who ran out of the building to get an RPG and was shot as he was returning to help us.

During all of this time two of my teammates were wounded slightly by shrapnel from bullet ricochets. SFC Kennedy got cut on his hand from a bullet that hit his .50 CAL machinegun and CPT Holditch took a slight wound in his forearm from a bullet fragment ricocheting off the wall. Somehow I sprained my ankle (not badly). The fight lasted almost two hours... but in the end we killed 5 or 6 of the bad guys! So I guess my angels were working overtime today! Please continue to pray for Team Alamo

Take care and Merry Christmas!

SFC Rick Ochoa
FOB Gabe, Baqubah, Iraq

As we celebrate Christmas in America this year, please take a moment to send Rick Ochoa an encouraging email and be sure to lift him and his team up in prayer. My prayer is that we will flood his e-mail this Christmas and New years with and outpouring of our love and support from the home front. His e-mail address is

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Nativity Story

As an AFA employee, I was invited to attend a screening of “The Nativity Story” which is now playing in theaters across the nation. I whole-heartedly recommend that you see it. This may come as a shock to you but Hollywood got it right on this one. As a movie goes, it adheres closely to the details of the scriptural text. That alone should be reason enough for believers to support it at the box office so that we might encourage Hollywood to give us more of the good stuff in the future.

The Advent/Christmas season is a time for Christians to think about Chapter One of the Greatest Story Ever Told and the experience of this movie for me was a powerful preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Please go to see “The Nativity Story.” Take your family or better yet your Sunday School class. Or, even better, take a lost friend for whom you have been praying.

I like this from film critic Frederica Matthewes-Green, "If you thought Hollywood was incapable of approaching Christians without a cattle prod, you'll be shocked at how circumspect this movie is. There is nothing in this film to offend devout Christians (parents note, however, a PG rating for some glimpses of crucifixion) but solemnity rolls through it all like molasses."

What follows is a good review of “The Nativity Story” from R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- My family and I attended a media screening for The Nativity Story the other night. The movie is in season and on message. In other words, the movie faithfully presents the main thrust of the Christmas story. That is no small achievement.

The movie, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, takes some liberties with the biblical accounts found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Nevertheless, the invented scenes and dialogue do not distract from the biblical storyline. The screenplay by Mike Rich presents key truths such as the virgin conception and deity of Jesus with unambiguous clarity and artistic force.

The Gospel accounts are the starting point for any telling of the story, of course. At the same time, there is no comprehensive biblical narrative that fills in every detail. We are left with huge questions. Joseph is described in the New Testament merely as a "righteous man" who believed God and obeyed angelic visions. When Mary is found to be "with child," Joseph decides to put her away privately, rather than to defend his own honor through a public accusation against his betrothed bride. Beyond these facts, we know little of Joseph the carpenter. Yet, as a character in this movie, Joseph is almost as developed as the character of Mary.

The movie presents invented dialogue and situations including a focus upon Mary's parents and family, the village of Nazareth, the emergence of Joseph, and Mary's relationship with her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

Invented scenes include an imagined version of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem (including a river crossing scene, complete with a threatening snake) and representations of the brutal oppression of the Jews by King Herod the Great -- a character who can hardly be imagined as more evil than he actually was. The film also attempts to convey the messianic hopes of the Jewish people, suffering under multiple levels of oppression.

Rich, who wrote the script, explained his decision to expand the story: "The only way to tell the story was to try and take that foundation in Matthew and Luke and expand upon it, while at the same time being very faithful to the spirit, tone and content of those Gospels." The same is basically true of nativity plays presented in churches across America.

The most extravagant display of that creativity involves the Magi. As presented in the movie, the Magi provide historical context, important dialogue and a degree of comic relief. Yet, these men are presented in a believable manner, without farce. Of course, the Gospel of Matthew never specifies a number of the Magi (stipulating only the three gifts), much less their names. The movie simply assumes the tradition of three Magi named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar -- a European tradition traceable only to the seventh century.

In order to present the Magi in Bethlehem the night of Jesus' birth, the movie suggests that these wise men from the East had seen the astronomical event of the star in the making and had left for Bethlehem months before Christ's birth. In any event, the Magi provide some of the most important Christological material found in the film.

When it comes to the virgin birth, the divinity and the saving mission of the Christ Child, the movie never blinks. Cinematographers may find fault with the presentation of the angels and the voice of God, but I have the sense that where the director had to choose between accuracy and artistry, accuracy often won. For that decision Christians should be thankful.

The film succeeds in presenting the humanity of the central characters and in building a sense of expectancy. There is little suspense in the movie, of course. We know the story.

Christian parents will want to discuss the movie with their children. Which parts of the movie can be traced to which biblical texts? Were the other parts of the movie faithful to the main storyline? How much of what Christians think they know about the nativity story is actually in the Bible at all?

Should the story of Jesus be reduced to film? That question is not as easily dismissed as some might think. Nevertheless, "The Nativity Story" is the first major Hollywood studio film in many years to deal with a biblical story. In fact, World magazine reviewer Steve Beard reports that "The Nativity Story" is the first such release from a major studio since "Ben Hur" and "The Ten Commandments."

So, Hollywood has produced a major film with a national release that straightforwardly presents the central themes and events of the biblical accounts of Christ's birth. We should not let that fact pass without notice.

Monday, December 04, 2006

News From Rick Ochoa - "Doing Some Good in Baqubah, Iraq"

Yesterday we went on a pretty good mission. We did some good and at the bottom of this page you can read the news release. You probablly don't get to hear this kind of stuff on CNN but believe me there are some good things happening! Unfortunately I lost my mirror to a stray shot, (see the attached photo) but all of Team Alamo is safe and sound. Thanks for your prayers! Rick Ochoa

IA, CF Maintain Security, Stability in Baqubah
By Multi-National Division – North PAO Dec 2, 2006 - 4:22:46 PM

Blackanthem Military News, BAQUBAH, Iraq – A combined Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces offensive operation detained dozens of suspected terrorists and rescued a 16 year-old kidnapping victim today in Baqubah.

During the operation, soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army, with support from the 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, searched 124 houses, detained 44 suspected terrorists, discovered three IEDs, killed three anti-Iraqi forces and freed one kidnapping victim who had been kidnapped 25 days ago and was being held for ransom.

“This operation is a significant event for the people of Baqubah,” said Col. David W. Sutherland, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, commander and senior U.S. Army officer in the Diyala province. “Because of their efforts, the Iraqi Security Forces were able to target specific suspects responsible for disrupting the peace of every day life in Baqubah. This is a vital step toward allowing the Iraqi forces to uphold the rule of law throughout the province,” he said.

The detainees were transferred to Forward Operating Base Gabe, and the IEDs were control detonated by an explosive ordinance disposal unit.

During the operation, two Iraqi Army soldiers were wounded. The soldiers were medically evacuated to FOB Warhorse, and one of the two soldiers was then evacuated by air to Logistics Support Area Anaconda for further treatment. Both are in stable condition.

While conducting the mission, soldiers from 2/5 IA spoke to the town’s citizens about the importance of their security and stability, while other soldiers delivered blankets and other humanitarian supplies to homes throughout Baqubah.

“Through their actions today, it is clear that the Iraqi Security Forces are focused on helping maintain security and stability for the people of Baqubah and the Diyala province,” Sutherland said.

End Military News Story


Rick Ochoa sent a video clip of his promotion ceremony done in conjunction with the Iraqi soldiers he works with.