When Tyler Brower’s plans to play hockey his freshman year at Gustavus Adolphus College were interrupted by injury, hours that would otherwise have been spent on the ice loomed, empty, in front of him. In response, the 21-year-old Edina High School graduate chose to act on faith. “This is time that God has given me,” he says. “There must be a reason why.” Through a series of events Brower and a traveling missionary, Dylan White-Owl Williams, whom he’d met on campus, soon had plans to travel to Amman, Jordan, in January 2015.
The Brower family has lived and traveled throughout the world. “I’m a senior captain with Delta,” explains Tom Brower, Tyler’s father. “One of my regular routes is to Tel Aviv, Israel.” Tom’s anxiety about his son’s journey to the Middle East wasn’t particularly high, although it increased, Tom admits, when Tyler announced plans to travel to the Za’atari refugee camp on the Jordanian border with Syria. “I told him he needed to plan and be careful, but I trust his heart,” Tom says of his son. “We’re both Christians. We try to act that out.”
Service during Tyler’s three-week stay in Jordan evolved to include volunteer hours at a local English learning center in Amman, work with refugee children in a church in Al Mafraq, as well as the visit to Za’atari. “Mostly I wanted to engage in meaningful conversations with people about anything—religion, politics (theirs and ours), even hockey,” says Tyler. And so he did, befriending, among many others, an Iraqi contract military worker living in Amman named Zeyad Jesuit. Badly wounded in an IED explosion, Jesuit converted to Christianity at an American army hospital. When disapproving family and friends disowned him and ISIS burned down his house, he moved to Jordan and began the long wait for political asylum in the U.S. “My eyes opened, my heart softened,” Tyler says. “We’re still in touch.”
Unfortunately, security was particularly tight when Tyler and several other volunteers arrived at the Za’atari refugee camp late in January. Tyler was not allowed to bring in the camera he wields with such skill. In an email, he writes of the day he visited: “There were a lot of devastating stories. They have major issues with overpopulation, drug use and prostitution…”
But grace descends where it will. Tyler describes a series of adventures with local Jordanians. One experience involved a six-hour journey from Amman to Wadi Rum. A new friend, Salem Saleh Gasm, met him outside the city and drove him 30 miles into the desert to visit a small nomadic hut. There, Tyler was introduced to Gasm’s uncle and 6-year-old cousin, both named Abbuh Hassan. “The uncle had a strong handshake and a nice smile,” recalls Tyler.
He captured the faces of the family and the beauty of their natural surroundings with his camera. Food was shared generously, Tyler says, although he was mortified to discover that leftovers from the men’s feasting were only then offered to the women, a mother and four daughters who were out of sight for the entire visit. Later in the evening, Tyler offered young Hassan his brand new Patagonia knitted hat, a Christmas present that Tyler had just received from his sister. “Once I saw him put on that hat, I knew it wasn’t coming back,” he laughs.
Overall, Tyler describes the trip as humbling. “We have so much here. It really put my life in perspective.” As to the future, he’ll return to hockey at Gustavus this year as a sophomore, although he “still has the itch for adventure,” he says. “And I know the Lord has a purpose for me.”