It has been a whirlwind of a past few weeks!
I was contacted by Samaritan’s Purse 2 weeks ago from this past Thursday to go to Northern Iraq to establish a program called Operation Rebuild Ninewa (as in the Ninevah of Jonah!) The objective of the project is to enable displaced families whose homes have been damaged due to the ISIS occupation to return home by reducing their financial barriers.
On July 17, 2014, ISIS broadcast an ultimatum to the Christians living in Qaraqosh (care-uh-koh-sh) : Leave by July 19th, pay a tax and convert to Islam, or face death. Over the course of the summer more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians were forced to flee their homes leaving all their property behind as ISIS invaded and conquered towns in the Ninewa Governate.
On February 3, 2016 the European Union recognized this persecution of Christians by Islamic State as genocide, followed shortly thereafter by the United States.
Samaritan’s Purse has been serving the internally displaced populations (IDP’s) of Christians in Iraq’s Erbil Governate since their sudden displacement from Ninewa in 2014. Activities included providing emergency food and water as part of the initial disaster assistance response team (DART) intervention, providing funds for medications through a local church-run clinic, and providing support to a church-operated child friendly space (CFS) to help children process the emotional trauma they suffered. Samaritan’s Purse continues to facilitate ongoing Bible studies and home visits to encourage displaced Christians in their faith through its Loving IDP Families in Erbil (LIFE) Chaplaincy program.
As the unified Iraqi liberation offensive to re-take Mosul from ISIS began in October of 2016, freeing villages in the Nineveh Valley from ISIS occupation, Christians have slowly started returning to their homes in towns and villages like Qaraqosh. However, many homes have suffered structural damage and are uninhabitable in their current state.
At the same time, many families lack the financial means to repair and furnish their homes after losing their savings by having to abandon their homes so abruptly, and needing to survive under a new economic reality (having to pay rent, reduced access to livelihoods, etc…)
The local church in Qaraqosh (one of the countries largest Christian communities Pre-ISIS) recently conducted a shelter assessment of the homes in Qaraqosh, assigning a grade of “A”, “B” or “C” based on the level of destruction.
- Grade “A” homes are generally beyond repair and must be rebuilt.
- Grade “B” homes require significant repair and generally deep cleaning from severe internal smoke damage.
- Grade “C” homes require minimal cleaning and repair
The Church has asked Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) and the International Community to help repair the homes of residents who are interested in returning but cannot afford to rebuild, beginning with the Grade “C” homes.
It is with great humility and honor that I can say that God has called me to be a tiny part of this initiative to encourage and share the love of Jesus with the Christian Community in Iraq.
I can certainly say that I have hit the ground running (I think I was even thrown into the air running, as I was completing a lot of the orientation paperwork during my flights here!) I have now been here a full week and am in the process of catching up to all the communications that have gone on up to this point. As well, I had my first trip out to the city of Qaraqosh on Thursday to be a part of the final negotiation for the rental of the property that we will establish our Site Office at. It is a place that is rented out for wedding parties and we will be using a part of the parking lot to work out of. At the same time as we were negotiating, we had hired a professional team to do an Explosive Hazards Sweep of the grounds (which was money well spent!) they found 2 mortar warheads with fuses intact and multiple empty shipping containers for large artillery propellant charges, and several ordnance scrap-metal pieces. We are thankful to now be able to start preparing the site to establish a presence in the area that we desire to be a Beacon of Hope for the Community.
I was caught off guard a bit by how this is impacting me emotionally. I am normally very steady in that department, but seeing the impact it has had just on the few people we met is sobering. The (Security Team Leader) and I were with (a Prominent Member of the Community) as we walked through his house this afternoon and as we came to his daughters room (who is the same age as my oldest daughter) he began to tear up as we discussed the senseless acts of horrific violence and damage. It really struck a chord in my own heart as I try to imagine myself in his position. We are so blessed in our western culture that it is not very often we are challenged so directly to literally trust God with our lives. But to see the way these Christians are responding and the Faith they are exercising to trust God to provide for them and protect them as they get ready to face the fears and challenges of moving back is extremely humbling as I try to think if I would be able to respond in the same way.
I am so grateful to be able to play a little part in God’s plan to bring Glory to Himself through this project!
Please pray with us in this seemingly insurmountable task as we remember the words of Christ in Matt. 19:26 “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (NLT) We would also ask you to consider giving to this ministry, as we have a very limited amount of money to begin this very important project for the persecuted Christians of Qaraqosh, Iraq.
Your Servant in Christ,