Update: Solidarity with Christians in Iraq
Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will glorify me. Psalm 50:15
Dear Partners in Christ’s mission,
It might not seem too remarkable, when, for a local church, a group of refugees from another country show up not far from your city and your congregation decides to reach out to them. But what if your own country had also been in midst of war for years, resources were thin, 75% of your congregation had immigrated and the roads to reach those refugees were dangerous…would you still feel the call? That question has been faithfully answered by the Presbyterian Church in Qamishli, Syria, after they had learned of 1,500 Yazidi families who had been driven from their homes on the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq by ISIS. Streaming across the unsecured border, they would eventually be organized into a vast “tent city.” Visited by a team of Presbyterians in Qamishli and led by their pastor, the Rev. Feras Ferah, the church learned that although the UN and a few other aid agencies were helping, one of the critical needs for these families – who had no foreseeable prospect of returning home – was a source for water. “When we saw their problems,” said Rev. Feras, “we forgot our own.” With assistance from The Outreach Foundation, the church took on the challenge of boring an artisan well for these families and opened a door for relationships and conversation about the Living Water: “….whoever drinks of this water, will never be thirsty again.”
(Note: In mid-November along with the Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh, The Outreach Foundation’s consultant for the Middle East, I co-led an Outreach Foundation mission-vision team to Lebanon and Syria. During that time we met with all of the nine Presbyterian pastors still serving in Syria, like Rev. Feras.
In Kirkuk the Presbyterian Church, pastored by the Rev. Haitham Jazrawi, has been deeply engaged in ministry with the thousands displaced from the surrounding Nineveh Province since ISIS first entered Mosul and smaller towns and villages in July. ISIS demanded the total allegiance of the Christians – or commit them to the sword. As scores of these Christians fled to the stability of Kirkuk, the congregation mobilized to prepare food baskets, blankets and medications for them as they sought shelter around the city in schools and on church properties. Soon, more than a dozen families were living permanently in the fellowship hall, offices and Sunday School classrooms of Rev. Haitham’s church. And then, Rev. Haitham began to get calls from other churches in the Turkish-controlled areas of Northern Iraq: Can you help us? Thanks to the generous gifts of The Outreach Foundation’s partner churches and individuals, he and his congregation could come alongside this urgent work – farther afield than the front door of their own sanctuary. In early November Outreach’s consultant for the Middle East, the Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh, traveled to Kirkuk and accompanied the church in its relief ministry to Akre. A town of about 150,000 north of Dahouk, this is where the local Assyrian Orthodox church was overwhelmed in trying to help hundreds of fleeing Christians who had come to them.
Rev. Haitham immediately dispatched a member of his congregation, Adnan, to Zakho, a large city near the Turkish border where in an extensive “duty free area” he was able to purchase a thousand dollars’ worth of blankets and 140 space heaters. Converging at the Assyrian Church in Akre, Haitham, Nuhad and Adnan found that dozens of families had set up their households in the fellowship hall and in the sanctuary. In addition the city officials had provided an unfinished animal hospital to which they had run emergency electricity cables and set up a few outdoor bathrooms. This two-story building accommodated 30 families and one of the displaced women and her college-age daughter, who were running a school for the children.
Nuhad heard many stories and this one is typical: Saleem, a police officer, and his wife, Jakleen, were living peacefully in the small Christian village of Tel Iskuf along with the families of their four adult children when they learned of the atrocities being committed by ISIS in nearby areas. Saleem quickly collected the family’s documents and a few of their personal items and sent them on ahead to Erbil. Frighteningly, they got lost on the way and almost ended up in Mosul, but, through God’s grace, made their way to Akre and the shelter of the Assyrian Church.
At the Presbyterian Church in Baghdad Rev. Farouk Hammo and his outreach team continue in their care of 70 displaced Christian families – over 400 persons. Clothing, food baskets, blankets, baby’s milk and electric heaters are a part of their regular distribution. Record keeping puts an enormous strain on the volunteers because most of the displaced families are also in some kind of major, complex transition: applying for immigration, seeking to relocate to another part of Iraq where they may have families or better job prospects, or just adjusting to the enormous cultural change of life in the capital city which may now have to be their “new normal.”
Many of those for whom the church is caring are Christian in identity but nominal in the practice of their faith. ALL are in need of psychological and emotional healing, given the depth of the traumas they have experienced. As Rev. Farouk observes, they need spiritual food as desperately as the material provisions. And so Rev. Farouk and his congregation make sure that worship, prayer, counseling and Bible study are a part of the holistic help they are offering. He reflects: “…we as a church are working hard to not only supply their needs but to impart in them, through the Holy Spirit, the Word of Christ and him as the Savior and Lord. For that we have arranged many meetings where the Word is preached … [and we have seen] a very encouraging and positive response where many souls stood up calling on the Lord Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior.”
The Outreach Foundation will continue to receive your generous gifts (now totaling over $380,000) 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 may also give online by selecting Iraq Appeal under the Designation button.
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development