Iraqi refugees dare to hope

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

Iraq (MNN) — Iraq is mounting an effort to wrest control of Tikrit and Mosul back from the Islamic State terror group.

Aid agencies warn that as many as one million people could flee Mosul as a result. They’re building up stocks of food at sites around the target zones to feed those forced to flee once more.

Since ISIS took up the black flag last June, they’ve carved a swath of territory between Iraq and Syria that positions them to both maintain control and allow for expansion. Aside from that first campaign, they’ve appeared in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, just to name a few. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has sworn allegiance to ISIS, too.

It’s not going to stop there. In a recent recording, cited by Ynetnews.com, a spokesperson for the group says they want Paris and Jerusalem. He then named major cities in Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, and also vowed attacks on the White House, Big Ben, and the Eiffel Tower.

Yet, Iraq’s government is claiming some success in rooting out the militants. What do the refugees believe? Josh Seale, Open Doors USA multimedia manager, just returned from a visit to Erbil and Northern Iraq. He says they don’t put much stock in the rumors, having seen what ISIS is capable of. “They would hear the reports, just like we do. They’re following the news and they would hear stories. I think almost every refugee that we met dreams of going home. They dream of going back to their villages, but there’s a reluctance to believe that that’s going to happen any time soon.”

Roughly two million refugees fled the ISIS advance in northern Iraq with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They had no idea how bad things were going to get. Seale says, “When they left last August, most of them expected to maybe be gone a week–maybe more, maybe less. Now, it’s been nine months of being displaced, living wherever they can find shelter.” With each month that passes, desperation grows. Everyone has a hair-raising or heart-wrenching story about their flight. For Seale, he pictures faces and voices to go with those stories now. “It’s not just facts and figures. It’s easy for things to become that, but these are actual lives and actual people, and [these] people are being faithful to Jesus.”

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

You’ve also heard that there’s a remnant Church. With only a few thousand Christians left in Iraq, you’d think church services would be quiet or hidden. In some places, that might be true. However, Seale observes, “You see the life in church a bit more active than what you would have expected. There was a church that I went to right before I left for the airport. The church was full: it was standing room only in the back.” Some churches are housing refugee families during the rest of the week, too. The indigenous church feeds them and takes care of other needs as best they can, and Open Doors provides what resources it can to help that along. Click here if you can help them.

Seale says one pastor summed up his responsibility this way: “‘It’s gone beyond providing my people food. It’s about providing my people hope now, because that’s what they need.'” That’s what they’re responding to, as well, adds Seale. “They meet every week. The people we met in the Church: there’s an excitement about what is happening in the people, the spiritual openness, and what the Church is doing.”