Iraq Appeal/Refugee Crisis-June 2016 Update

Let us not become weary in doing good, 
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

Weariness “not an option” for the Kirkuk Presbyterian Church two years on…

Although the tragic events in Iraq from the summer of 2014 have mostly faded from our daily news cycles, the past is very much present for Rev. Haitham Jazrawi and his congregation at the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk. It began with a persistent knocking at the church’s gate late one night. It was soon inescapably evident in the streets around town as entire families stood dazed and bewildered, clutching small parcels and, for the fortunate ones, a suitcase containing a few changes of clothing and their important documents. And then the reports soon reached their ears of entire congregations of the Syrian Orthodox Church seeking haven in safer villages not far from Kirkuk….

ISIS had taken Mosul in June 2014 and by August had pressed on into the nearby Nineveh Plain, which was dotted with many small towns. Ahead of them fled tens of thousands of Christians – by car, by bus, on foot – who sought shelter wherever it could be found. More than 70 of them ended up living in the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk, where every classroom and office became a small apartment. They are all still there.  With help from partners like The Outreach Foundation, Rev. Haitham and his church responded to urgent human needs whenever and wherever they could. They encouraged us ecumenically to help purchase a generator for an Orthodox kindergarten started for displaced children and to assist the Catholics who were renting apartments for students from Mosul University who were eager to continue their studies. The ministry of the Kirkuk Church is no less acute, two years later, as Rev. Haitham recently shared:

I was contacted by a certain Christian professor [at Kirkuk University], who also serves as Assistant Dean of Students. He informed me that there were a total of 69 new refugee students (all Muslim and Yazidis) from the Nineveh Valley who had recently enrolled at the university. These students are (or rather, were) pursuing higher education degrees (post-graduate). And although they had secured dormitory space, the university is unable to provide them with food or basic necessities that are afforded to other students. As such, knowing our church’s strong interest and very active role in leading relief work within Kirkuk, the professor asked if we could step in to provide some assistance. We visited them right away and found their living conditions to be in a very poor state. Therefore, we proceeded to purchase food and supplies, which we took to them so that they would have enough to eat.

Down the street from Kirkuk Presbyterian Church was a Pentecostal Church that closed because all of its members had immigrated. This congregation had also taken in several displaced families who now had no one to care for them. Unable to take them in because their facility was already maxed out, Rev. Haitham’s church rented and renovated a house nearby for them and added a third family from the Nineveh Plain who were also in dire straits. The father of one of those families shared his story for us: 

My name is Hani Jawhar Aziz. I’m from a small town within the Nineveh Valley called Qaraqosh. I served as a teacher for 25 years. I primarily taught in an even smaller town adjacent to mine that was strictly a Muslim town, so all of my students were of a Muslim background. I nevertheless was loved deeply and treated respectably by those around me; and I know that my work, over these years, impacted the young Muslim children to a great extent, for which I thank the Lord.

I was born in 1965, and for a good portion of my life, I worked multiple jobs. This was especially true when I was still building my family. As you know, making a home takes a lot of effort, especially in terms of furnishing it properly and making it livable. In addition to being a teacher, I had several manual labor jobs, and I even worked as a radio broadcaster for 13 years at a Christian radio station. The station would broadcast news, songs, and live programs specific to its Christian audience, since the area was predominately Christian. The impact of this station was far reaching in that it even reached Muslims, who would often participate in our programs by calling in.

Prior to the invasion of ISIS, I would have described myself as middle class. I owned my own home, which was fully furnished, I lived without any debt. I grew up knowing the value of hard work, and I raised my children, my four sons, to work hard and know the value of work.

The day when we left our lives behind as ISIS approached our home remains burned in my memory. It’s a memory that I cannot escape from. It haunts me like a nightmare. No matter how hard I try to forget, I cannot. We initially left our home for three days when ISIS first began its march towards the Nineveh Valley. We returned after three days thinking our town would be safe. Most who left, 90% of the town, didn’t come back like we did. Very quickly, however, we discovered that our return was premature. And so, on August 6, 2014, we left our homes – and we have yet to return. I remember that there was a bus sent to the local church, and all the priests were informed to ring their church bells as loud as possible as a sign of warning to the remaining town residents. The bus was there to pick us all up. And so we left everything behind and departed.

And yet, I still say, despite all that has happened, that we remain hopeful in Christ. We as Christians live by this hope, day in and day out. As Christ told us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” So we know Christ remains with us, regardless of what we have faced. We’re also told, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And so I say, if we are to live a faithful Christian life, we ought to live happily, knowing full well that we will indeed inherit the kingdom of heaven. And yet, we
remain human, we remain in pain, we remain saddened by all that has happened and we cannot forget our pain.
Hani and his wife

Hani and his wife

As summer sets in, the Kirkuk Presbyterian Church hopes to distribute small refrigerators, mattresses and portable air conditioners to other displaced families around town who are living in fairly raw circumstances. We thank God that our family-in-faith in Kirkuk continues to reach out in Christ’s name and has “not grown weary in doing good.” May our prayers and gifts renew their strength and their resolve.

Joyfully,

Marilyn Borst
Associate Director for Partnership Development

Rev. Haitham in his church's courtyard – now the staging area to distribute these portable A/C units

Rev. Haitham in his church's courtyard – now the staging area to distribute these portable A/C units

To date, your generous gifts to the Iraq Appeal total over $750,000 as well as over $130,00 for the Refugee/Internally Displaced Persons Appeal. Your prayers and partnership have brought help, healing and hope to thousands of (mostly Christian) Iraqis who have been internally displaced as well as for those who are refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The Outreach Foundation will continue to receive gifts in support of our major Iraqi partner – the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Iraq – as well as several other Christian partners in the region. Gifts for the Iraq Appeal or Refugee/IDP Appeal may be made by clicking HERE or by mailing a check to our Franklin office.