Since last year, Messenger International has been supporting a church and group of refugees affected by the actions of extremist rebels in the Middle East. Here our international director, Robb, brings the latest update. For more information on this work, please click here.
Friday, April 17. This morning a bomb blast hit the entrance of the closely guarded American consulate in Erbil, Kurdistan. This is just across the road from the little coffee shop where I would sometimes meet with local contacts, and just a hundred or so yards from a previously derelict building that now houses around six hundred Christian refugees. It is a sure sign of the tensions that still exist in the region.
Stories of the flow of Christian refugees, the horror of their experiences, the persecution of minority faiths, and the tragedy of a nation torn apart by war have slowly dropped from international news but the situation still exists. In Erbil there are still large numbers of Christian refugees, displaced people now living in spartan circumstances. Families continue to live in tents, makeshift rooms, derelict building sites, and rented homes. Displaced children still go without education, and food and vital aid only comes from relief agencies. For many there is little chance of future hope. Indeed, many cannot even think of the future. They can just scratch out a living for today.
This week the United Nations hosted a series of meetings focused on bringing to light the ongoing and worsening persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East. According to The Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide, “more people have died for their faith in Christ in the last 100 years” than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Just a hundred years ago, Christians formed 20 percent of the population of the Middle East. Today, that number is down to just under 4 percent.
Before the Gulf War in 1990, there were some 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are only 200,000, and many say that it is even less than that. Most have suffered persecution. Many have lost everything and are now refugees in their own country. In the words of Archbishop Bashar, the head of the Catholic Chaldean Church in Kurdistan, Iraq, Christians have “little time left.” Simply put, in our time we are witnessing the genocide—the planned eradication and extermination—of fellow believers across Iraq.
Against this backdrop, the work of the faithful continues amongst refugees in Kurdistan, Iraq. It is work that Messenger International believes in and financially assists, and it is a work that is much on the hearts of our leaders. Every week 500 refugee families receive a grocery voucher worth $25 from the church we support. Family details are carefully recorded—number of children, ages, disabilities, etc.—to ensure that everything is done fairly and that every dollar is accounted for. Mothers with babies come on a different day each week to receive additional help, milk, diapers, and clothing. The church doctor provides medical help or assists by directing people in need to specialists, covering the costs and helping with ongoing support. In March seventy-eight people received specialist help to the total cost of $13,720.
Widows receive special aid: an additional $100 per family per month. For them there is probably no other source of help. They are by themselves, fending for their children and separated from relatives. Many will not talk of the horrors they have been through or seen—loved ones lost, women raped, children kidnapped, and families torn apart. The church offers counseling and care and demonstrates love through its work.
The displaced people being supported are mostly Christians, but the church does not exclude destitute and displaced Muslim families. Outside of Erbil there are around 100 Shabak Muslim families, also refugees from the ISIS militia and also supported by the church. For them there is nowhere to spend a voucher. There are simply no grocery shops nearby, so the church visits twice a week to deliver much-needed water, groceries, and medical care. After receiving care, one elderly Muslim man said, “We elected our leaders, but when we really need help they are not available. But when I came to the church, I got an answer and received help.”Such acts, a true testimony of the love of Jesus across any religious divide, continue to demonstrate the heart of the believers, giving hope and seeding love.
The local church continues to lose members to immigration—faithful families who have lived in Erbil for generations now seeking to leave the country for safety with family members elsewhere. Yet the church continues to grow, its numbers now swelling because of attendance by refugee families. Aid is given, the Word is preached, lives are being changed.
This week in Iraq there is talk of the liberation of Tikrit, yet ISIS fundamentalists have also reportedly taken Ramadi (sixty-eight miles west of Bagdad), causing thousands more to flee. Families put all they could carry into their cars or on bus roofs and drove away, leaving everything, probably never to return. Christians are fleeing north towards Kurdistan, their last refuge in this shattered nation. Nobody knows yet where thousands will end up and how many will come to Erbil.
Thank you for helping Messenger International support this ongoing need. This work is an extension of God’s love in this troubled nation and a helping hand to our fellow believers in the midst of a still unfolding tragedy.