Update for the Iraq Appeal: Solidarity with Christians in Iraq - August 2015

Last summer, a fast moving disaster struck Iraq: the Islamic State set its sights upon making Mosul its capital. Once home to the highest concentration of Christians in the country, Mosul and the dozens of Christian villages in the surrounding Nineveh Plain were terrorized, as was the vulnerable Yazidi minority. Within weeks, your generous response to our Iraq Appeal (to date, over $600,000!) allowed us to quickly send resources to the region: to the Presbyterian churches in Kirkuk and Baghdad who began to minister to their displaced neighbors and to partners in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who, within months, were called upon to serve, in Christ’s name, refugees who had fled Iraq.  Beyond meeting the urgent, critical needs of food, medical care, clothing and shelter, your gifts have also provided outreach opportunities for the local Church to share Christ through bakeries built and an artesian well drilled in Yazidi camps. Those gifts have sponsored seminars for pastors and elders eager for training on doing ministry with traumatized populations and for Sunday School teachers whose “new normal” are children whose world has been turned upside down.

Rev. Haitham Jazrawi, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk and our “frontline partner” in Iraq, shares the following reflection upon this dark anniversary. You will sense, I know, that the Light still shines there, “and the darkness could not put it out….” (John  1:5) The news channels have long since found other disasters to cover. The Church continues to hold and to serve – with its tender embrace of Christ’s love – those whose lives have been devastated by loss and whose futures are uncertain. Their work is far from finished. And I dare ask that your generosity follow suit…

Marilyn Borst
Associate Director for Partnership Development

To our friends at The Outreach Foundation:

We are now approaching the first anniversary of the harshest persecution against Christians in Iraq since a hundred years ago. To be fair, what happened to my people (the Christians) also happened to some Sunni Arabs – not because of their religion or belief but that they preferred to leave their homes and their towns and migrate because of fear from ISIS and the imposition of the sharia law.

Anyway, I recall what happened on June 9, 2014 when Mosul began to be emptied of 99.9% of the population of Christians, who were forced to leave the city – the .01% who did not leave the city were the handicapped and the elderly who did not have means of transportation or relatives with whom they could leave.

They came out as quickly as possible, filling their vehicles with their valuable belongings and with what money they had on hand – this was allowed by ISIS for only two days. Beyond those two days, ISIS stopped them and confiscated everything they had, even their IDs, personal documents, money, wedding rings and mobiles phones – they were left with only the clothes they were wearing. One mother informed us that ISIS even took the milk of her nine-day-old baby, as well as the bottle. Most headed to nearby “safe” Christian villages around Mosul on the Nineveh Plain, some walking if they had no car. Those that had some resources continued on to the bigger city of Erbil and its Christian quarter of Ankawa, where the rent was very high. During those first days, none of the displaced came to our city of Kirkuk for fear that ISIS would soon come there, also, as we were only a few hours away from Mosul.

  What they don't teach you in seminary: how to install a   septic tank in your church courtyard because 70 people now call your education building “home.”

What they don't teach you in seminary: how to install a septic tank in your church courtyard because 70 people now call your education building “home.”

But the tragedy multiplied on August 6th when all those Christian villages mentioned above and surrounding Mosul, were taken again by ISIS. So here was a second displacement, and all these families had to leave again, many seeking other Christian villages farther north into Kurdistan. Those who went to Erbil found little room there – churches were already full from the first wave of the displaced, and the government had even opened up schools to house them. Many were forced into the streets and parks. And some began to make their way, in desperation, to Kirkuk, even though we still feared the arrival of ISIS…

Beginning on August 7th an enormous human wave flooded the city,  knocking on the doors of churches, weeping and seeking help. They were exhausted and frustrated. Some of my congregation had relatives among them. I personally knew four sisters whose brother had been an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Mosul, whose sanctuary had surely been taken by ISIS along with all the other churches there.

 This Syrian Orthodox family from the Nineveh Plain is grateful for their new “home” in a 12’ x 30’ Sunday School room at the Kirkuk church. It holds everything they now own.

This Syrian Orthodox family from the Nineveh Plain is grateful for their new “home” in a 12’ x 30’ Sunday School room at the Kirkuk church. It holds everything they now own.

We were not prepared in terms of living necessities to receive them: no blankets, mattresses, sheets or pillows – nothing to give them – but at the very least they needed a roof to shelter under from the heat of our hot summer where temperatures can reach to 120 degrees. So, relying on God, we opened our church and began to move them into Sunday School rooms and offices – 72 persons. We had to supply them with food and with medicines, as most did not have the things necessary to treat their chronic conditions like high blood pressure. Some needed wheelchairs as they had climbed into cars to  flee without taking them with them. Most had only the clothes they were wearing.

This human exodus was enormous and our human capabilities were almost non-existent, but we had only one option and that was to make the leap of faith and depend on our great Lord. The church members held daily prayer vigils and began collecting clothing and blankets and bought supplies with their own money. The Women’s Committee organized themselves to provide meals. We soon began contacting Christian sisters and brothers outside Iraq, and the first and fastest to respond to us was The Outreach Foundation, with other groups and churches soon following.

Such was the beginning ... but the crisis has evolved over time as more displaced people started coming to us from other churches where the resources had run out. We have also ventured into the northern villages where many Christians had fled. We have been able to do this because of the gifts received from The Outreach Foundation (over $200,000) and from other friends (an additional $80,000). The needs of these brothers and sisters continue…

In the midst of this tragedy and all of its painful realities, we are assured that God is with us in the center of the storm, as we are reminded in Romans 5: …suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…

Beloved, we have experienced how great is the love of our God which fills the hearts of you who have helped us and support us so that we can temper the pain of our displaced brothers and sisters. We pray that our villages and towns may one day return back to their normal life and the homes of displaced families will be rebuilt and there will be an end their crisis. Amen – so be it, Lord, so be it.

Rev. Haitham Jazrawi
Pastor, Kirkuk Presbyterian Church

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. Or make an online gift by clicking HERE.