Visiting An Iraqi Refugee Camp
On behalf of Open Doors, Lydia* is on the ground reporting about the situation in Iraq. She is in the country to touch base with local partners of Open Doors, but also to connect with refugees and bring a message of hope. She tells the people she meets that they are not forgotten and shows pictures of prayer nights, meetings and the #WeAreN T-shirts, for example.
After having arrived at the Hotel in Erbil, I’m looking down from my window on a tent camp. The tents in the yard of the Chaldean Catholic Church below are housing refugees, most of them probably from Mosul. Behind me in the hotel room is a grand bed and because of the heat, the air conditioning is buzzing. The contrast between our accommodations is huge. On the other side of the road, the tents are set up in the burning hot sun. Temperatures easily reach to 45 degrees Celsius (113 F). People seek shelter in the shadow of trees or sit underneath pieces of tarpaulin, tightened between some tents. I ask myself what I’m doing here. Who am I, to have a glimpse of their sadness, needs, loss and bereavement, and then return after a while to my safe country and home? The doubts set in very quickly. Then I realize that God is much bigger than my doubts. We are here for a purpose- and a good one at that. We can provide churches and partners in Iraq with the means to help thousands of displaced people with humanitarian aid, providing food, water, toiletries, mattresses and more. We also have the chance to let the refugees know that people all over the world are praying for them. That they are not alone in this battle, but that we stand alongside them daily. I believe the fear which is spread by the Islamic State (IS) is opposed by the Highest Power. This morning I read an encouraging message from a colleague, who tells me that she is praying for me. She reminds me of Psalm 91. That God is my refuge, the Most High God my shelter. Equipped with this truth, I decide to go downstairs, cross the street, and let the people know that they are loved and being prayed for by others around the world. To my surprise, I am welcomed into the bustle of camp. Pastor Douglas of the Chaldean Church is inflating some swimming pools so the children can cool down, have some fun, and lift their spirits. At the same time, a group of people is standing in line to receive shoes handed out by workers of the church. Minutes later, Pastor Douglas is arranging some games for the men. A tug-of-war competition with a thin rope results in everyone falling down on either side when it snaps! Pastor Douglas tells me that his purpose is to keep the people busy, so there will not be much time to worry. He wants to make the people here feel welcome, to provide a sense that this is just their home for a short period of time. He does not want to call it a refugee camp. As I turn and see all of the smiling faces around me, and feel my own heart lifting, I realize that this refugee camp is a place of sudden and unexpected joy. Open Doors is committed to being present among the believers who live in the places where Christians face the most persecution listed on the World Watch List. With the on-going persecution from ISIS of the believers in Iraq, we can still stand united with them in the purpose of glorifying God through the trials. These believers have made Christ more beautiful than their persecution, and it is our joy to encourage them.