Update: Solidarity with Christians in Iraq
…we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope; and hope does not disappoint us… Romans 5:2-5
Before 2003, it was the largest Presbyterian Church in Iraq with a membership of over 1,000. But a decade of deadly sectarian fighting, which has plagued the capital with “routine” car bombings, has taken its toll on the Christian population here – as elsewhere in Iraq. And emigration has brought about a significant loss of Christian presence. This reality makes it all the more remarkable that Rev. Farouk Hammo decided about five years ago to make his way back to Iraq when he learned that the Arab Presbyterian Church in Baghdad was without a pastor. It had never been his intention to stay when he traveled to Australia to pursue his second career call, preparing for ministry. But when government offices in Baghdad were destroyed in the first Gulf War with the records for many citizens like Farouk who were studying abroad, he found himself in limbo. He was unable to secure permission to return to his homeland, until persistence and special interventions paved the way a few years ago.
Apparently, God is pretty good at preparing his servants to lead from the inside of a “fiery furnace,” as Rev. Farouk refers to the current situation. And that preparation began a long while back when, in his first career as an engineer, he was responsible for the oversight of more than a dozen major dams in Iraq. Those skills necessary to organize and implement major projects, coupled with the passion of an evangelist and the heart of a pastor, have uniquely positioned Rev. Farouk to lead his 200-member congregation in reaching out to those displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh plain who have made their way to Baghdad. Five hundred Christian families have formally registered with a special Endowment Department which the government has set up (with a parallel one for Muslim families). Overwhelmed with the scope of the disaster, the government welcomes the help of area churches and has facilitated connections to these families. Rev. Farouk shared the following overview of the work of his church to date:
Greetings in the awesome name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior:
What a blessing it was for our team to step forward to help the displaced families who were able to make it to Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. Some of these families walked long distances before being picked up by the local authorities [in government or military trucks].Our relief team was able to reach many families who were located within 10km of our church, and we got to know their needs and stories. Many shared the horrific time they spent facing death for days before being able to flee for their lives, leaving everything behind. Most of these families have no relatives or friends here, so they made their way to uncompleted multi-story construction sites, vacant buildings or houses. Some walked out with only the clothes they were wearing; most were stripped of their identity cards, medications, and even baby bottles.
With relief funds from The Outreach Foundation, and the love gifts and the offerings of others, our church relief team was able to stretch their hands to the displaced families and support them with the following items the first half of September:
- 500 hundred mattresses
- 60 food baskets
- medical appointments for 50 people
- clean water for 100 families
- milk for 50 babies for a month
During the second half of September we were able to touch the needs of the displaced families with the following:
- 70 food baskets
- hot meals for 220 people
- 200 New Testaments
Our relief team could hardly bear to hear these testimonies that follow – however, we knew that our prayers and supplication were the only comforting things that could heal some of their hurts:
Two brothers were living next to each other in Qaraquosh when a couple of shells fell on their door steps. One of their sons was badly injured. While they were preparing to take him to the hospital another shell fell inside the house of the other brother killing a 10-year old boy and injuring three others. They headed to the hospital in Erbil, an hour away, but this time it took two days as the shelling kept on and the whole population of Qaraquosh (60,000) was fleeing for their lives. When they got to the checkpoint of Erbil, the guard did not allow them to get in because they and the rest of the fleeing crowd did not have identity papers. They finally made it to the hospital with their injured son, who required many operations to save him. This family made it to our church where we are caring for them.
A depressed young man told me that his mom and aunties were left behind as they were old and too slow to run for their lives – ISIS came in, took everything in their homes, and then killed them.
Two elderly women walked all the way from the Nineveh Plain to Erbil and were then transported to Baghdad. They told us how ISIS confronted them with these choices: convert to Islam; pay a monthly ransom of 17gms of gold; or leave with nothing. Otherwise, they would be beheaded. They replied that they trusted the Lord Jesus and nothing else and were willing to leave every belonging behind but not their relationship and trust in the Lord. One of their friends committed her life to Christ at our church on September 16th.
There is a great need among the displaced people for prayer and counseling, as they have come face to face with real terror and the horror of beheadings. I urge you to include the cities of Iraq in your prayers for divine healing. We are racing with time to supply the needs for the winter season as it is just around the corner: blankets, heaters, and jackets along with other daily needs. With your prayers, supplications, and support, we will be able to supply what is needed.
In the aftermath of the mass exodus of Christians and other minorities from Mosul and surrounding villages in the north of Iraq, your generous gifts – totaling $262,000 to date – have strengthened the hand of our partners there by helping them to minister to the displaced persons with food, water, medicine, shelter, and spiritual counseling. Our solidarity with the Presbyterians of Iraq has also greatly encouraged them as they are reminded that they are not alone in these difficult circumstances.
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. Checks should be noted “Iraq Relief” and mailed to The Outreach Foundation, 381 Riverside Drive Suite 110, Franklin, TN 37064. You can also give online at www.theoutreachfoundation.org by selecting Iraq Appeal under the Designation button.
Associate Director of Partnership Development