Iraq (MNN) — It’s bad enough fleeing one time for your life, never mind four.
But for some, trekking into a civil war zone in Syria is safer than staying where they are. Over the weekend, over 200,000 displaced Iraqis Christians, Shiite Muslims, and adherents of Shabak faith crossed the border into Syria to escape the ISIS violence in Iraq.
Baptist Global Response Executive Director Jeff Palmer confirms, “What we’re trying to do is help people who have gone back and forth. Imagine that you’re in a place where you think you’re safe: you’ve already fled home, and then you’ve got to go back to that place. It’s just extremely confusing and extremely hard on the families.”
Palmer explains that some of these Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria two or three years ago, left Syria when civil war broke out, and headed back to Iraq. Now, as jihadists advance, tens of thousands of these IDPs are on the move. So desperate is their situation, they have sought safety in a country aflame in a civil war. Palmer says, “It’s extremely hard for the aid givers, like us, to keep up with where folks are and where they need the help the most.”
Islamic State militants warn people should convert to their version of Islam, pay religious tax, flee, or face death. They have left a trail of brutalized corpses in the wake of towns they conquer. Palmer warns that will continue. “You’ve got a group that is looking at setting up its own government, its own military, and its own state. It’s not just in one country: it crosses borders.”
While the U.S. has begun airdropping water, food, and other supplies to Yazidi refugees in the mountains, BGR representatives are focusing efforts on helping the reportedly 200,000 internally displaced Iraqi refugees who have fled ISIS militants’ rapid advance. Palmer adds, “We’re trying to find multiple ways to get in. Right now, we’re actually working with several groups, providing basic kits. We’re also helping another group–believers–that are fleeing the area. That comes more out of the Mosul area, and we’re helping them more with livelihood.” BGR is a primary ministry partner of the International Mission Board.
Local believers are putting themselves in jeopardy to do what the aid drops cannot. “On-ground believers are very much people of faith who share their faith as they go,” says Palmer. It’s an extremely dangerous job, but not much stops this group. This is a life or death situation. “Everything that we’re doing is in the name of Jesus Christ. Everything that we’re doing is giving that cup of cold water, giving that piece of bread that helps them stay alive.”
Overt outreach? They’re bold, but they’re not crazy. Times are changing, and while the approach has to flex, their message does not. “The Gospel goes out in deed in terms of caring for those who can’t care for themselves, which is a biblical mandate. It goes out in Word in those places where we have a chance to be able to share. It goes through our local believers right now, because there are just not a lot of ways to get outsiders into those critical areas.”
One final thought, Palmer shares. Right now, the atrocity is shocking. It’s being talked about. People are motivated to respond. However, “This is something that has been ongoing for centuries: the persecution part and people trying to establish power in this part of the world. Don’t get weary in well-doing. Please continue to pray. Please continue to support organizations like BGR who are trying to help those who are isolated and can’t help themselves.”
Anyone wishing to respond to this crisis can help by donating to IMB’s general relief fund or by texting imbrelief to 80888, which will donate $10 to that fund.* To give through BGR, visit gobgr.org or text bgr to 80888.