We are committed to helping those who have been affected by the actions of ISIS. Because of the faithful, generous support of our partners, we were able to immediately respond with aid for Iraqi believers and refugees. The following is an update on the Iraqi situation from our international director.
I just came off of a phone call with Gabir,* our contact in northern Iraq. We have been out of touch for a few days, as the phones in his area had not been working.
Usually, I phone to hear from Gabir, to understand what else we can do to help and how we can best pray. He waits for my calls to hear words of encouragement and love, words that strengthen and inspire, encourage and uplift. Indeed, he reminded me, “Good news comes from afar.”
Yet closer to hand, there in Erbil, there is no good news. He sits with great tragedy all around him. He is surrounded by the unwanted. The persecuted. The homeless. The hungry, the sick, the hopeless, the desperate, and the dying.
He sounded exhausted. He is shattered from the long days and nights, weary from the lack of sleep, and greatly saddened and shocked by the tragedy that continues to unfold around him. He spoke of the ongoing mental trauma that he, his family, and his church leaders face each day. Tragedy is etched onto the faces of those who stagger to his door with anguish in their eyes and deep sorrow creased into their faces. They have crossed the desert, leaving a trail of possessions behind them and carrying the weak while tears leave streaks on their dust-caked faces.
“Sorry, Brother Robb, that I have not written to you,” Gabir said. “Sorry that I have not sent a receipt for the last gift, and sorry that I have not had time to send more photos.”
I told him that these are the least of my worries. “How is the family?” I asked.
“They are well,” he said, and then there was silence. I could hear from his voice that he was in tears, catching his breath.
“I love you, dear brother. You are close to my heart. Your family is my family,” I said.
We both paused, each waiting for the other to speak first, neither of us knowing where to start.
“For weeks,” he said, “More people have continued to stream in from areas around Mosul.”
Mosul is a city at the heart of Nineveh province. It has been occupied by ISIS since mid-June, and Christians in the city have been forced to either convert (few have) or be killed. This is a place under radical Sharia law where children are required to watch public executions.
Believers in Mosul must pay large amounts of money to have time to gather their possessions before they are forced out of the only life they have ever known. Experts estimate that some 500,000 people have been driven from the city. There is no count of those who have been killed or have died in the desert.
Gabir went on to tell me that now even women, the sick from the hospitals, and the elderly have been forced out of the city at gunpoint. Young girls and women have been taken as “wives” for the rebels, sold like commodities in the local market, or transported to Syria, where child brides fetch a premium.
One family had disguised their young girls as boys, but when they were leaving Mosul, ISIS rebels took their three-year-old daughter and her teenage sister. The mother wept and pleaded with the ISIS rebels to let the two girls go, or to at least let her stay to look after them. But the family had nothing more to pay as a bribe. They were told, at gunpoint, to leave—with the very real threat that the entire group would otherwise be killed.
Gabir told me that because of such stories and what he has seen firsthand, he can hardly sleep at night. “I cry with them, I feed them, and I pray for them, but I can do little more. Only Jesus can heal their broken hearts.”
“I think of my own daughter,” Gabir told me. “How would I feel if she was taken?” There was a pause, and then he explained in a faltering voice that he almost does not want to hear any more stories.
“It is such an unbelievable disaster, worse than one can even imagine. And still the world is doing little,” he sobbed. “Every family is facing tragedy. Every person is brokenhearted. Refugee Christians continue to come to my door. Thank God that they have a place to seek sanctuary. I cannot turn them away.”
Over the last days, Gabir told me, several of the elderly in the camp had died of heat exhaustion. He described the stifling heat of canvas tents staked out in the blazing hot desert sun. “I have over two hundred sick and elderly crowded into smaller apartments. We are trying to find air-conditioned places for them, but it is so hard. We have hired a wedding hall and divided it up into twenty-six rooms with fifty-two families. Nobody has time to celebrate, so we will use the place for the needy.
“We are also trying to organize a school for the refugee children,” he continued. “We have 3,500 children, but there are only 45 teachers among the refugees. We also have no facilities.” Everything he said sounded so hopeless.
“I am talking to the government, but they too cannot help. Even now our own children cannot go to school. All of our schools are filled with refugees. Everywhere there is disaster. Please, Brother Robb, ask your church to pray for continued strength. Pray for world intervention in this hopeless situation.”
We prayed together and said goodbye, and then I sat and wept. Just one phone call away, mothers are losing their daughters, seeing them torn from their arms. A nation is being destroyed. Christians are being persecuted, executed for their faith, and driven from their homes.
Please continue to uplift these dear people in prayer.
Thanks to our partners, Messenger International provided Brother Gabir with funds that were used to purchase mattresses, food, a mobile bread oven, and more. The regular contributions of our partners allowed us to immediately respond to this need without having to ask for special donations. There are restrictions surrounding the delivery of funds into Iraq, but we are committed to seeking solutions that will allow us to provide ongoing support.
Your partnership helps make this possible. Thank you for standing with us to teach, reach, and rescue.