I wrapped up an inspiring trip in the Middle East on behalf of ServeNow. There are so many stories to share and thoughts to articulate. But allow me to summarize a few fundamental realities in the top five words that come to mind. For stories and more information you can view here: Middle East Trip Facebook.
The Middle East is a very complex part of the world. Even in just Iraq, there are multiple groups of people and languages. You have Iraqis in Federal Iraq and mostly Kurds in Kurdistan Iraq, which has its own government. But then, inside and outside refugee camps are the Yazidi and Syrian people. Additionally, Iraq borders multiple Middle East Countries, so there are also other groups of people and languages. There is also a long history of traditions, religions, and conflicts in this part of the world. There are also even multiple terrorist groups. While most of Iraq is Muslim, there are also Christians in the traditional sense, and the “free churches” are more evangelical. But the Yazidis also have their own religious beliefs. We interacted with all these groups on this trip, but you can see how even within one country, there are various sub-cultures with very different dynamics to navigate and entirely different languages.
We did spend a lot of time with mainly, but not exclusively, Yazidi people. The level of trauma these sweet people have endured at the hands of ISIS was the worst I have ever heard. The depth of pain tears your heart apart. I wanted to take away all their pain so badly. However, I had to remember that only One can bring true healing to our hearts. Jesus has done that for us at the cross. He identified fully with us in our sin and all this world’s evil, abuse, and trauma. I tried to share that with especially one woman whose stories were one horrific reality after another for years before she was freed from ISIS control. But even eight years later, the pain level and need for healing are just as great as ever before.
It was also haunting to learn that almost all organizations have now pulled out of helping the Yazidi people. The UN has even stopped even the minor monthly payments they gave families, which wasn’t enough to survive on anyway. The world’s attention has shifted to Ukraine, and while the need there is raw and incredible, it breaks my heart that the Yazidi people are feeling abandoned and forgotten by the world. Organizations rushed to the scene eight years ago, but funding has dried up for many, or people’s attention has moved elsewhere. But the Yazidi people remain in refugee camps with nowhere to go and no help to be found. Some tried to return to Sinjar, but the danger is still too great with terrorists on the peripheral. Everything is also destroyed, and they don’t have the resources to rebuild. Further, it hadn’t occurred to me until one Yazidi woman told us that she didn’t want to return because that is where their nightmare began, and all her male family members were slaughtered before her eyes. The pain of those memories is too great to want to go back and start over.
While the dynamics are complex and people are severely traumatized, I was moved by the openness to Christians in Kurdistan Iraq and to Jesus especially among the Yazidi people. They wanted to talk, and they wanted to ask questions. One woman even told us how in their book Jesus is a healer! I found that interesting because the Yazidi people have faced 74 genocides in their history. If any group of people needs the healing touch of Jesus, it is undoubtedly the Yazidi people. And they are open to him because the contrast between what they saw at the hands of ISIS could not be greater than what they see in Jesus and his followers. I heard comments such as, “Only Christians help us.” “Jesus gives me hope. That’s why I love him.” A young girl told us she has a tattoo of the cross because “I love Jesus. He is with me when I pray.” Several others came to us asking sincere questions and wanting to talk about Jesus. The hunger was among the greatest I have seen in a long time. Further, Christians have gained a reputation in Kurdistan Iraq as “different” than others in positive way. They are known to help and not hurt anyone.
I was excited about the possibilities and opportunities ServeNow has to significantly and meaningfully serve not just in Iraq but throughout the Middle East and even North Africa. A couple of crucial project possibilities should funding allow are:
- Basic Series in multiple languages throughout the Middle East. We already have The Basic Series being translated and used in Arabic. We also just launched on this trip two more dialect versions for Iraq. We are also translating Farsi for Iran. And we have requests for some others we are considering. We have a matching grant where gifts towards The Basic Series will be doubled. These books are provided to pastors at training conferences we hosted on this trip for the first three days.
- Yazidi Center: We toured a new 3-story building being constructed on the outskirts of one of the Yazidi refugee camps. We want to rent this facility to provide a place where there is activity/education for Yazidi children, skill-training programs for women, worship and discipleship opportunities, food relief distribution made more accessible, and more. Amazingly, the facility would only cost $500 a month for us to rent. Operating with all the activities will cost about $1,500 a month.
- Medical Equipment: We need to provide hospital equipment, wheelchairs, ultra-sound machines, and clothes to several villages we visited. We have the connections to send 40-foot containers with precisely the items requested and needed. But each container will cost $17,000.
- Water: Several communities we visited have no running water. These villages begged us to provide water. We are getting some proposals and estimates of what would be best, but this is among the greatest needs in several poor Muslim and Christian communities we are serving where they are among the poorest of the poor.
- Expansion to other countries: We had the opportunity to stop at the Kebar River, where Ezekiel had visions of God (Ezekiel 1). While we didn’t have a vision of God, I have been saying we certainly have many visions we believe are from God to serve those most in need throughout the Middle East! I will be heading to Israel and Egypt end of January/February 2023. Turkey and Syria are ready to launch The Basic Series. We are also looking at multiple North African countries later in 2023 and beyond.
The reality is the above takes significant resources and prayer. And this is just one part of the world in which ServeNow operates. We have a presence on every continent but would like to do something for the sake of the Gospel, big or small, in every country of the world. The world’s needs are immense, but we believe God loves the world! And the way he has demonstrated that love the most is by giving. When you and I, therefore, give to meet the needs of others, we are displaying the love of God in action. Our God is a giving God, and his people should also be characterized as very generous people. That was undoubtedly the testimony we heard in Iraq!