October, 2014—Today I met a couple from Mosul, Iraq (modern-day Nineveh), both about 75 years old. They elected to stay behind when their families fled to Erbil. They were going to pay the ‘tax’ to stay.
After they paid the first month (about $370), ISIS took the money and put the couple in a truck, drove them out of the city, dumped them by the side of the road and told them to walk to Erbil. During the long walk to get to safety behind Kurdish lines, the husband suffered terrible injuries to his feet. He is slowly recovering but may need his foot amputated.
Thankfully, they were reunited with their daughter and her family, and are living on the empty fifth floor of a shopping mall with 320 other families (1,200 people). The first four floors are filled with shoppers—like at Christmastime—then two floors are filled with refugees. They’re very fortunate to be staying there, protected from the cold nights. On the street below, delicious snacks are sold that they see and smell but can’t afford to eat.
Yesterday I met with 12 Yazidi families (poor farmers and goat herdsmen) living in an unfinished housing complex. In Iraq, people build as they get funds, and since the owner is currently out of funds, he allows around 210 families stay in about 40 houses. The families shared stories of their survival—days and days on the mountain without food, getting water by sucking mud from holes in the ground and drinking animal urine.
I asked an elderly man what churches in Canada should pray for. I wish I had a video of his passionate response. He essentially said: “You have seen how we are living, you have heard our story. Please tell people about that. We are so grateful for the support we have received from churches. Without it we would be dead. Tell your people we are thankful, very thankful. And please do not forget us. We are still struggling to survive. We want to go back to our homes but we have nothing. I saw them blow up my house and they have killed or stolen all our animals.”
I also met a pastor who told me that he was born in 1977 and his country has “been at war since I was three years old. “We need help physically,” he said, “but more importantly, emotionally and spiritually.” I asked him what I should tell churches in Canada, and he said, “We are very tired. Please come and help us minister to these people. Minister to us. We need you to stand with us. We need to see and feel, in a consistent and persistent way, that you are with us for as long as it takes.”
I am headed home soon. I return with the deep conviction that these current events are the most critical days for the Kingdom of God in our lifetime. This is the homeland of Abraham and Sarah. The church has been here since the first century. It has withstood 2,000 years of persecution, opposition and at times great violence. But the last decade has seen the largest numerical exodus in all those 2,000 years. The remnant that is still here is filled with courage and wants to fight—with love—to revive the church in Iraq.
Two thousand, seven hundred years ago, the Lord said to Jonah Nineveh: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11, NIV).
Do we have any reason to think God is less concerned about today’s 137,000 people from modern-day Nineveh who are now internally displaced? And is He any less concerned for the animals belonging to that Yazidi herder that were killed or stolen?
Help families in the Middle East who have been displaced as a result of violent conflict and religious persecution receive the physical and spiritual aid they so desperately need to cope with the resulting poverty and trauma.