Update on the Current Christian Iraqi Refugee Crisis in the Middle East

We arrived in Jordan one year ago to date.   Nothing has changed during that time for the course of tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees still stuck here in Jordan.   We have witnessed 25,000 Muslim Syrian refugees leave Jordan and go to Canada in the first three months of 2016.   I can count on my hands the number of Iraqi Christian refugees I have seen leave during the entire year.   When we first arrived in June of 2015, these refugees were distressed and seemingly without hope.  Now a year later they are even more desperate, emotionally less stable and still seemingly without hope.

Months ago, some families were told they were welcome with open arms only to have the world turn their face away after the shocking Paris attacks.  When people see the faces of Iraqi Christians refugees, they are clumped together with the faces of terrorist extremists, whether intentionally or unintentionally so.

Backstory

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For more than hundreds of years Christians have settled in the area of the Nineveh plains, otherwise known as Mosul.  They speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.  Additional Christians resettled here ten years ago as they fled Baghdad and the war that began to tare that city to shreds.  Mosul was defended by the Kurdish army otherwise known as the Peshmerga.  In the dark of night in June of 2014, the church bells rang through the city.  The Peshmerga had fled and ISIS was coming and would be in the city in three hours.  Thousands of families grabbed what they could in their hands and fled; some in cars, others on foot with children in the darkness for hours.  They all had one destination: Irbil, Kurdish territory.

Today

That was the terrible day that began the displacement of thousands of Christians in the Middle East.  Still they are without resettlement or any real hope of it.  In Jordan there is no feasibility for staying, there is no possibility even for the consideration of it.  The Jordanian government has given them five years tops for transitioning through to other countries.  In the meantime, these families cannot work, drive cars, or earn a living here, etc.  Live is stressful and different when a family has no intention of staying.  You don’t build relationships, you don’t seek to identify with the people, don’t attend school; you don’t plant roots.  Some families are still afraid to leave their homes.

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People in the West may think Jordan and Iraq are neighbors so at least it still is the same culture, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In Jordan, the people speak a different language, eat entirely different foods, have a different religion, history and traditions.  The same goes for the northern Iraqi city of Irbil where there are thousands of refugees—now called IDPs, or internally displaced people are housed in camps.  To the West, Kurdistan is still Iraq.  In reality, Kurdistan is distinctly not Arab.  Kurdistan is Kurdish.  They exclusively speak the Kurdish language, eat Kurdish food, and live Kurdish.  If you are Arab, you are the what threatens their way of life, and here too, the Assyrian Christians have been lumped into the Arab threat.

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Here in Jordan, even now, new families are coming over every week from Irbil.  At first, my husband and I thought it was because they heard of a few families finally getting to leave, but after doing research we learned it is actually because the families that had fled to Irbil were staying there in the hopes that their lost land and homes would be one day be recaptured back from ISIS, delivering them from the threat of death—literally.  It seems they have now reached the end of their hope and are finally saying goodbye forever.

Once arriving in Jordan, they are entering a country saturated with refugees to overflowing.  In addition to the Iraqi’s mainly around the capital city of Amman, there are over one million refugees from Syria in the north.  No Iraqi’s are in camps here, they are all Syrian… and Palestinian. The Palestinian refugees that are in camps are still there, three generations later, from the displacement of what people here call the occupation their land by Israel.  (If you are traveling to Israel, you don’t tell people you are, you say you are going to Palestine, because here, the nation of Israel does not exist.)  Fortunately, recently there have been 85,000 work permits granted to Syrian refugees in efforts of integration and business regulation in the north by the Jordanian government.  Jordan is and has been a place of peace and consolation to the most dire of victims in this Middle Eastern chaos.

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Today we sat before an Iraqi refugee man nearly in tears saying, “I am responsible for my family, what am I to do?”  Yes, Joel and I work with Relief for these families, but money alone can not solve the problems these families have spread before them.  Even with clinic bills paid for, even with children in schooling we provide, even with a roof over their head, despair lingers.

They are not home, they have no family here, all their degrees and training in education in Iraq have become invalid requiring them to begin from square one wherever they go at any age (we know a man his first year into his practice as a doctor and one young woman who was due to graduate the week of fleeing), all the heavily regulated process towards marriage for anyone stops as grooms no longer have anything to offer a bride, and wherever a family may eventually end up they don’t know the language, culture or way of life, which are all very different.   Any money these families had in banks, the savings they had, the buildings, businesses, the cars, the land, farms, the places of all of their lifelong memories—gone.   This is the unseen effect of war, wherever it happens, whenever it happens.  Life stops. Unfortunately, the countries choosing war as a solution are often less familiar with the long-term effects on their own soil.

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After two years, the increase of stress and anxiety compounded by the lack of outlet for doing anything, going anywhere, any day of the week except waiting has caused depression to set in for some.  Families try to sleep through the day as much as possible for there is nothing, and no one for them to wake up for.  Don’t get me wrong, we are doing good things here; providing relief in the very middle of this crisis.  Patients are being seen for free, medical procedures are being helped with, languages are being learned, children are going to school, food is being distributed, and rent assistance is being given—all of those things are wonderful, critical, and important, but even with this they cannot stay, and the question in the back of everyone’s mind is, “Where can we call home?”

Love Is Our Greatest Weapon

happyreign  “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa 

In the picture above with my beautiful wife is this amazing little girl. This precious treasure and her family are Syrian Refugees who fled to Jordan escaping the war. At such a young age she has seen family relatives murdered right before her eyes.  It has been almost two years since they left the war torn country of Syria but she still has nightmares almost every night. She cuts herself and has tried to take her own life more times than her parents can count. My wife and I accompanied by some people who minister to the Syrian Refugee Community were asked to visit her and her family. As we walked towards their home a strong smell of smoke chocked us as we got closer to their door. Her parents tell us that she had just set something on fire. The small room where we sat was still filled with smoke. Everyone was coughing. It was almost unbearable. We came with bags of groceries, a guitar and with hearts over flooding with Love. One person on the team wanted to sing a song for her and she did. This beautiful girl sat right in front of her with her eyes beaming like flying saucers. My wife proceeded to hug her and play with her. I snapped this picture of what we were told was a rare sight. She was laughing! My heart was overwhelmed by God’s love for her and her family. This is just one story of millions who have been suffering from war. Have we forgotten that we belong to each other??? The mentality of “Us” vs. “Them” does not come from the Kingdom of Heaven.  Whether we realize it or not we are ALL one! We all come from the same place. We are all His! I have found that the greatest opposition to hate is Love. Love is our greatest weapon. I encourage all who read this to love recklessly and extravagantly!

Frolicking with God in the Middle East

Joel and I have written ‘off the grid’ about our adventures in the Middle East for three months followed by spending the holidays in Puerto Rico and now we’re writing again to announce “We’re heading back!”

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GOING BACK        That’s right, in the midst of our goodbyes with a plan to return in our hearts, the Lord orchestrated an open door for us.  While spending our last day in the old city of Jerusalem on Thanksgiving, God had a date prepared for us with one of the most prevalent Christian influences in Iraq.  20141127_122857Unplanned, we spent our morning with a man known as the Vicar of Baghdad or Canon Andrew White.  After exchanging hearts, he extended an invitation to join him in his efforts towards peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.  In tandem with this effort is relief towards the poor, the displaced, and the suffering.  Andrew started an organization called Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East that focuses on providing food and medical care, while also meeting with leaders on all side of the divides that are alive in the Middle East, aimed at restoring the essence humanity in their midst; the compassion that enables peace.

Dome_of_Rock,_Temple_Mount,_JerusalemJoel and I are possibly going to be involved in Israel, Jordan, and Kurdistan region in Iraq but we will see what God has planned for us as the time nears and as we arrive back on the ground there.  All we know is that God is inviting us in the overflow of his heart towards a very hurt and defensive region that he loves so much.  His glory and his image covers the land, and everyone is invited to participate in the heaven that Christ embodies toward all of humanity.  God is not waiting for human dispute to end before continuing in his celebration of who he is and what he’s done; we get to participate in his rejoicing.  God is not worried, intimidated, or uncertain of the path towards peace.  His love is mature and patient without end towards a people who are hurting and have experienced much pain.  Freedom is free and available to all.  Hopefully we will get to be a part of highlighting the way to that peace.

20141021_155734OUR PLANS NOW      Joel and I have another three months in America before our return.  We will be traveling across the country in our sporty Montero with stops in Ohio, Paducah, Cairo, Missouri, and more, on our way to northern California for two months.  We have a return trip scheduled towards May through Oregon, Minnesota, and back to South Carolina.  We look forward to seeing friends and family, meeting new faces, and seeing some of God’s beautiful creation along the way.

OPPORTUNITIES     We’re inviting you to come with and join us along the way!  So many people have been so encouraging, supportive, and have believed in us!  Our hearts are forever entwined with yours as you’ve sowed into our adventures with God, and this glorious journey continues!  I’ve attached some more information to our happy giving page of how you can sow into God’s plans for our lives in this season if you like.  One way we always need is prayer!  Thank you so much for responding to the spirits leading in basking our journey in prayer.  We couldn’t do this without the Christ in you and we love having your blessing and strength along for the ride.  Prayer matters and changes reality, isn’t our partnership with God awesome!?

John-Crowder1Here’s another opportunity we’re going to post on our announcement:  Do you want to come join us for a week?  A mutual friend of ours John Crowder is hosting a trip to come and help the Syrian refugees and minister to the church and the lost in that place.  Never worry about finances.  Ever.  Only say yes to the desires God births within your heart and he will make a way.  I only say this because when its him doing it, its worked for me every time he’s sent me.  We’d love to have you.  We’re going to be ministering in a town that Joel and I have visited and we’re super excited to partner with the church there as well.  It will be the adventure of a life time to be a part of what God is doing on the ground in the Middle East.  The deadline to sign up is March 1st.  Here’s the link… see you there.

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With love and blessings always from us to you, thank you!