Joy in a Land of Strife

By Jamie Dean –

In the Middle East, citizens are clinging to any help they can find.

Militants from the terror group Islamic State — also known as ISIS — have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and driven more than 1.5 million people from their homes. Many of those refugees are Christians and members of other minorities. The militants have also viciously killed thousands, including two Americans beheaded publicly.

Sarah Ahmed has seen much of the suffering of the refugees firsthand. In her work for the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), Ahmed travels between the refugee settlements in the north and a base of operations at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad.

Sarah Ahmed. Photo: Because I Love Peace.

Sarah Ahmed. Photo: Because I Love Peace.

When Ahmed talks about the extremism and violence of ISIS, she expresses grief and anger, and claims the terror group “doesn’t represent Islam.” Ahmed spends her days helping Christians and others suffering in the north. As refugees have fled their homes, they’ve flooded Kurdish cities like Erbil. Those with resources seek shelter in hotels or rental homes, but others end up sheltering in church sanctuaries, schools, and tents.

Aid agencies and some missions organizations have delivered aid to the area overwhelmed by the influx. Fuel prices have risen, rents are doubling and tripling, and permanent residents grow frustrated with the strained living conditions. Still, Ahmed says, some churches have opened their doors to refugees, and she’s also seen Christian families offer to share their homes.

That’s a difficult offer for some. Many Iraqis already have large families in small houses, so offering space to large refugee families — sometimes with six to 10 people — is challenging.

Still, Ahmed says she’s been encouraged when she sees ordinary citizens sacrifice to help others. She remembers one local resident who saw several Christian families living in the streets after arriving in Erbil. He invited the families to stay on his property and provided bedding and other supplies.

In other parts of the city, daily life continues for those already residing in Erbil. Ahmed sees weddings and parties, and says people eat and drink in local restaurants as usual. She says it can be a jarring sight in a city with so many suffering: “But what can people do except continue living their lives?”

In Baghdad, people are trying to continue as well. ISIS militants haven’t seized the city, but residents still live in fear of car bombings and other attacks. A pair of car bombings near a Baghdad market on Sept. 10 killed at least 30 people. Ahmed says the city’s residents still go to work and school, but wonder if they’ll make it home: “In Baghdad people are scared all the time, but being scared and fearful is just a part of life right now. This is how it is.”

Despite the dangers of Baghdad, some refugees fleeing ISIS have arrived in the capital city. Congregants at St. George’s Church have offered aid to those arriving, and Ahmed says many have bought new clothes and other supplies for those who fled their homes.

Meanwhile, the church continues its outreach to poor and needy residents in spots around Baghdad. And Canon Andrew White — the St. George’s chaplain known as “the vicar of Baghdad” — continues to pursue discipleship in the midst of chaos.

In an August blog post, White — who also leads FRRME — wrote about the joy of preparing children at the church for their first communion. He asked the children why they were excited, and “they basically said that when they were baptized their parents had promised they would follow Yesua, but now they have decided themselves.”

The chaplain gave the children Bibles, and said the church would distribute the same Bibles to refugees in the north: “So amongst the devastation there has indeed been the joy of the Lord.”

Jamie Dean is the news editor at World Magazine. This article is reprinted by permission of World (www.worldmag.com).  

 

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