Iraq Appeal/Refugee Crisis - November 2015 Update
Wiggly, giggly and mesmerized by the foreign visitors to their classroom in Erbil, Iraq, these precious little four and five year-olds seemed very typical for their age. But they were not. When our small Outreach Foundation team visited them in March, it had been about eight months since they and their families had run for their lives as ISIS marched upon their villages in the Nineveh Plain. 200,000 of these Assyrian Christians fled from their small, once peaceful enclaves: Bartella, Bashiqa, Batnaya, Karamlis. They found haven in safer towns deeper in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Northern Iraq and the big city of Erbil. Their young priests like Father Yacoub, whom you see here, shepherded and encouraged them along the road. And now those young priests, with no resources, work hard to create some sense of normalcy for these traumatized families. They have started a few kindergartens/preschools in which to nurture these tender young lives.
We were introduced to this faithful, scattered Syrian Orthodox community through Rev. Haitham Jazrawi, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in nearby Kirkuk. Ever since the displaced Christians from Mosul and beyond began showing up at the door of his church (with 70 of them now living in it), Rev. Haitham and his congregation have been actively seeking places to serve their fellow Christians who were caught in this dreadful tragedy. Resources provided through your generous gifts to The Outreach Foundation have strengthened the hand of our Presbyterian family in Iraq to reach out: feeding, healing, encouraging. A few days earlier, we had met another young priest who had been displaced with his congregation to Sarsink, north of Dahouk. With tears in his eyes he gave tribute to Haitham: nothing we have asked of the Presbyterians has been refused us…
As we moved amongst the small classrooms in a modest rented house a memorable encounter unfolded, as I noted in my journal that day:
One class of five year olds was led by Father Yacoub in singing for us – in their thin, high voices – the Lord's Prayer in Syriac. As I fought back tears I struggled to film a video of this on my camera. It was quite moving, as you can imagine. As I panned those tiny faces I could not help but think on the past months of these short lives while offering a prayer that somehow they might have been shielded from the horrors and traumas through which their parents had brought them. But my tears were more of joy, as that ancient Syriac language – spilling from those little lips and melodically wrapped around our Lord's Prayer – gave witness to the resiliency of the Church: even here, even now....
Please continue to pray for and with these pastors, priests and church leaders who continue to seek God’s guidance and our partnership in forging an uncertain future for their congregations. They must call up deep reserves of spiritual strength to lead “for such a time as this” even as they, too, must heal and nurture their own families (the little girl seen with Father Yacoub is his own daughter who was also a part of the terrible exodus last year).
Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
Note: On October 28, torrential rains in Baghdad caused devastating flooding throughout the city. The Presbyterian Church received over two feet of water in most of their buildings. Because of your gifts, we were immediately able to release $20,000 for the necessary cleanup and repair work. They continue to meet for worship and to minister to hundreds of families in the city who were displaced by ISIS last year.
The news coverage of the largely-Middle Eastern refugee crisis unfolding in Europe has brought shocking images into our homes, and many want to help. The unsettling reality of this situation is that most of the refugees have not made it out of the Middle East but have become the humanitarian burden of nearby countries. This is why The Outreach Foundation continues to focus our efforts on finding resources for our church partners in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan to care for neighbors – Christian, Muslim and Yazidis – who have had to flee to a safer area in their own country or find a haven across a nearby border. To date, we have put into the hands of our partners well over a million dollars. The Church in these places is a bright light in darkness and a Word of Hope in the swirl of despair. We hear Paul’s word “do not grow weary in well doing.” We invite you to continue with us on this journey of accompaniment. Gifts for the Iraq Appeal, Syria Appeal, or the combination of both as “Refugee/IDP Crisis” may be made by clicking HERE or by sending a check to our main office.