Were you at this year’s Spring Harvest? If so, you might remember Eddie Lyle of Open Doors and Abby Guinness, Event Director for Spring Harvest, making an appeal for Christians in Syria and Iraq. Your response was amazing. Here’s what’s happened since.
Perhaps you remember the night we showed a film featuring Mounira’s story in which she described how she and her family fled her home last August after hearing that Islamic State (IS) militants were nearing her village. Or maybe it’s the face of Pastor Douglas you remember, standing amongst the tents of displaced families in his church courtyard, saying “Pray for us. Help us. Save, us.”
That evening we prayed that God would help us to help our brothers and sisters. And He did. You generously gave an incredible £320,000 to provide food relief for displaced Christian families in Syria and Iraq. It was amazing.
And then, a couple of days later, we all went home.
So what has happened since then? A few weeks ago, I got the chance to meet some displaced families in northern Iraq and to see what your help has meant to them. There are thousands in Irbil and Dohuk whose homes are only 30-50 miles away, but they can’t go back – it just isn’t safe. Instead, they’ve spent over a year living in tents, church halls and porta-kabins. And because work is hard to come by, most are still dependent on food relief to help them survive. In the last few months,
Open Doors partners have been able to use money raised by Spring Harvest for life-saving emergency relief and to strengthen the church in Syria and Iraq in its ministry to those around them.
Usaim* – himself a displaced person, living with his family in a church hall – is heading up the team in charge of distribution. They have 10,000 families on their list, with an impressive 95% precise detailed data on each one. They are justly proud of the quality of provisions they supply. Everything is fresh and has an expiry date of 2016-17. It gives dignity to the recipients, says Usaim. It costs more, but they want these families to feel valued, not bottom of the pile.
In a camp for 1000 displaced families in Irbil, I saw people queuing up to claim their monthly food parcels, packed with rice, pasta, oil and other essentials. And I saw the egg man – who delivers 30,000 eggs to this camp each month in small batches so that none of them gets broken! Uniquely, our partners have been supplying eggs since January, as an alternative sometimes to meat or fish – and it’s very welcome. For families who have been left with little but the clothes on their backs, this kind of support has been a lifeline. One lady, who received mattresses and food through our local partners told us: “I thank God 100 times that I have something for my children.”
It would be understandable, under such pressing circumstances for people to fall in to despair, and there are many who continue to feel stretched, exhausted and overwhelmed – you can see it in their eyes. But a regular supply of food keeps them going until they find a job and it helps them to look forward with hope. Usaim says he no longer thinks of himself as ‘displaced’ any more. He wants to move on with his life and look forward. “A year ago,” he says, “there was no faith. Now, faith is growing.”
That kind of turnaround is thanks to you. Is it possible that the result of just one gift on one single evening can mean so much? With the help of the God of miracles, yes. People feel cared for physically, emotionally and spiritually. They feel loved. The leader of one of our partner churches recently said: “The internally displaced people (IDPs) would have been miserable if your organisation had not supported them. The Iraqi churches may have supported them for two or three months max… We could not do this without your help.”
The rise of militant Islamists is one of the defining events of our times – and is having a profound effect on the church in the Middle East. My hope is that when the history books are written, future generations will know that the church played a leading role in helping people to stay in the homeland they love.
Thank you for the part you’ve played in that.
Of course, that’s not the end. The need is immense – and with more and more churches asking for help we are increasing our commitment to support them. So watch this space – because there will be other things you can do, whether on your knees in prayer or on your feet in action. Together, I believe, our faith will grow as we keep hope alive for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
Claire Page writes for Open Doors, www.opendoorsuk.org, an international ministry serving persecuted Christians and churches worldwide. Author of many children’s books, including ‘God knows all about me’, she and husband, author Nick Page, live in Oxfordshire with their ever-dwindling family and Chinese crested powder puff (that’s a dog).