On behalf of Open Doors, Lydia writes about the current situation in Iraq. In the country to support the local team and to get in touch with Open Doors’ partners in ministry, she is also there to bring the people she meets the message that they are not forgotten.
Today is my last day in this shaken country. Tomorrow, I will be leaving Iraq and going back home. Just like that. So easy. A huge contrast to the lives of the people I have met during the past few days. On several occasions, Christians communicated in sign-language they would love to go with me-by putting both their index fingers together and making the suggestion of flying away.
There are times I feel deep sorrow, and then the next moment, I can’t help but laugh out loud about something that is happening or what someone is saying. It is an emotional rollercoaster, and somehow still my body and stomach are protesting against it in a way.
Today, we visited an unfinished concrete building that houses over 100 Christian families. Part of the space is divided by canvas with a “home” for every family, but in other parts of the building, they just live in the open. The displaced Christians are taken care of by the people of Saint Joseph’s Church.
I must admit that photogenic places like these are a photographers’ dream; on the other hand, I feel like a paparazzo. These people lost everything, even their privacy, and then on top of that, as a stranger and foreigner, I come and take pictures of their distress.
But instead of being offended, they welcome me as a friend. A young student tells me in his best English that it is very important that we tell their story to the world through pictures and writing. They even ask me to take pictures of them. They are thanking me for being there. It is all a matter of perspective. Especially the children are very fond of their picture being taken. And they are so cute!
After five days of visiting churches, refugee camps, houses, pastors and co-workers, I have learned so much and have seen such great faith. Even when people go through the darkest valley, if there is faith, then there is love, hope and even laughter.
Pastor Douglas, for example, motivates the children to feel responsible for the hygiene of the tent camp at the church yard. At the end of each day, he calls for the “garbage moment.” Every full bag of garbage boys and girls can show him will be rewarded with some cookies, drinks or other small items. Apart from having a fun moment, by doing so, it also teaches them to keep the place clean, and that it is good to take care of your surroundings.
Another Pastor tells me that he motivates people to participate in the support to other refugees. He says, “It helps them to have some purpose in life, and it helps them to focus on the good things. Seeing the great need of others sometimes helps them to be thankful for the things they still have, like food, a place to stay and family.”
Another great initiative is to help churches in creating child-friendly spaces- a special place or tent where children can be just children. Makruhi is a trainer with one of Open Doors’ partners; she recently started teaching churches how to create such child-friendly spaces. This project also includes training workers. She prepares the workers by telling them what they can expect in the behavior of the ones that are traumatized. She also shows them how to respond to the aggressive behavior some children may have. In short, the message will always be to try to understand the reason a child may be aggressive. Never respond in anger, but show them love and compassion. And, if necessary, provide a correction to counterbalance the misbehavior.
The child-friendly space that has been setup in one of the camps looks great. It is a large blue tent, padded with colorful cloth on the inside. Through a local partner, Open Doors sponsored the tent, all the little chairs for the children, the fans to cool the tent and even the children’s games. Pastor Daniel and the children can’t wait to start!
Children are the future. I’m confident that when they are healthy both physically and spiritually, there will be hope for this country. The ethnic and religious boundaries are sharp in Iraq-Christian or Muslim, but also inside the church, Orthodox, Evangelical or Catholic. However, if the children of today learn about hope and love, they will know how to live in peace with each other. Then they will get the chance to make a difference for their own lives, and also for the future of their country.
Father, thank You for the resiliency You have created in children to enjoy life, whatever their circumstances. Where we have forgotten that skill, give us faith to relearn it. We pray for these children in the refugee camps, asking that You continue to provide food, shelter and a safe place to learn and grow. Show them Yourself in dramatic ways, and draw them near to Your heart that they might always walk in Your way. We pray also for those who are working with the children, that You will daily give them the energy, resourcefulness, and wisdom to lead well and to be effective disciples. And very soon, bring about an end to the oppression of ISIS, and an end to war. In the name of Jesus, who calls us to come to Him as little children, Amen.