As a coalition of Western and Arab countries continues its military action against Islamic State (IS), it is uplifting to hear how Egyptian Christians are helping to provide humanitarian relief in northern Iraq. Only a year ago, Egyptian Christians faced an onslaught from Islamic extremists; now, they are providing Iraqi believers with much-needed practical and psychological support in ways that Westerners cannot.
One of the largest churches in the Arab world, Kasr el-Dobara church in Cairo, is delivering aid to Iraqi believers alongside agencies such as the UNHCR, Caritas and many others, thanks to its relatively well-paid and well-connected membership. This church, under the leadership of Rev. Fawzi Khalil, director of relief ministries, has sent a delegation to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq every 10 days for the past two months, trying to turn the humanitarian tide. The congregation’s middle-to-upper class membership has so far donated $180,000 to the relief efforts. A fundraising trip to the United States added an additional $120,000.
They have distributed 2,500 mattresses, along with pillows and blankets, and also 400 portable gas stoves capable of serving four families.. Most impressively, the church supports a network of 2,200 families that receive a food basket every two weeks. This network is run in coordination with churches in Ankawa, a largely Christian neighborhood in Erbil, where 90 percent of recipients are Muslims also fleeing IS militants, or members of the Yazidi minority.
Khalil reports that the majority Chaldean Catholic Church of Ankawa has done an excellent job of caring for Christian refugees. Erbil’s population includes roughly 160,000 Christians, and many have opened their homes to their Christian brethren.
As a result of the exodus from southern Iraq, Erbil’s churches are overflowing. The refugee center on the Mar Elia church grounds currently houses 700 families. Nearby Mar Yousef camp, also in a church, hosts mostly Muslims and Yazidis.
Erbil has a permanent population of 1.5 million people. According to UN-Iraq, the three established UN camps only have the capacity to host eight percent of the refugees. Local families and churches have taken in many more, but thousands are still sleeping on the streets, under bridges, or in partially completed buildings, said Khalil.
A 60-year-old blind man from Nineveh told Khalil how he would not return to his home. “I don’t want to go back to the same neighbors who betrayed me,” he said. “They surrendered me to the terrorists.”
Soha, 22, had recently graduated from university and was looking forward to her new job in Mosul before the IS onslaught. Now, she finds herself caring for her brother’s three children who have been separated from their mother. “Now, all I have is a mattress, a donated plate of food, and two sets of clothes,” she told Eva Boutros. “This is the end of my youth.”
Boutros is the director of volunteer ministry for Kasr el-Dobara, but she accompanied a joint churches team organized by the Chaldean Church in Heliopolis, Cairo. This particular team brought cash as well as tents, medical supplies, blankets, and children’s underwear that were donated by Egyptian companies.
Boutros, recognizing that many of the refugees needed something more than the supplies the group brought in, took 280 young women, including Soha, shopping at the local mall. “It was fun for us, and fun for them,” she said, describing a rare moment of happiness amid a desperate situation.
Perhaps her mothering heart gives her a greater memory for personal detail, but she praises a different source. “I remember each person, their face and their story,” she said. “The Lord sent us to tell them ‘we are suffering with you’. They need you to hug them, stay with them, and listen, listen, listen.”
In addition to Boutros, Kasr el-Dobara’s team included a professional psychiatrist who spent hours counseling women and children through their trauma. A team of childcare specialists did their best to entertain the children each evening. According to Boutros, the fact that Egyptian Christians have been present has made an impression on many. “Muslims and Yazidis appreciate very much that they are cared for,” she said. “They know it is the church that is doing this in Iraq.”
But no one is able to do enough according to Kharrat, a former MP in the Egyptian Parliament. If families are still living on the streets when December arrives, the already tragic situation will turn catastrophic. “Hundreds of thousands are unprepared for winter,” Kharrat adds, referencing anticipating average lows of three degrees Celsius (37 degrees F). “Conditions are horrible. They survived the summerthe heat did not kill thembut the freezing snow might.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father of mercy and hope, we grieve daily over the reign of terror IS forces are exacting on Christians, Yazidis and fellow Muslims. We praise You for the work of Egyptian Christians in helping these struggling refugees. And, we praise You for the testimony of their invaluable work as the UN and the government look on. Continue to provide resources and people to help. We especially pray for those living on the streets as winter draws near. Be strength, encouragement and hope both to the refugees and to those bringing aid. We pray for the defeat of IS forces in this whole region, and that You would stem the flow of terror from this region into the rest of the world. In the name of Jesus, Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is there, Amen.