Contact: Jerry Dykstra, Media Relations Director, Open Doors USA, 616-915-4117, [email protected]
SANTA ANA, Calif., June 27, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ -- The occupation of the Iraqi city of Mosul by violent extremist Muslims of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forced up to 3,000 Christian families out of their houses on June 9. Most of them fled to the safer northern Kurdish area.
A few days later Open Doors started supporting the refugees with humanitarian aid, working with local churches and partner organizations.
A Christian believer told an Open Doors worker that on June 9 it was like a nightmare on the streets of Mosul. "There were lots of families walking; everyone was moving. It was crowded in the streets in the middle of the night."
The Iraqi believer adds that he, his wife and four small children fled while two houses on their street were hit by bombs and set on fire. They fled with only the clothes on their backs and wearing sandals.
In the days that followed, up to half a million people fled Mosul and the surrounding region. Most families fled to cities such as Erbil in northern Iraq while others remained in the cities and villages on the outskirts of Mosul. The fortunate ones stay with relatives. Others reside in places such as schools, unfinished buildings and tent camps.
A team of Open Doors field workers, who have been ministering to persecuted refugees from Mosul, Baghdad and other areas for years, started gathering information after the ISIS attack.
"The immediate needs were very obvious -- water and food," states one field worker. "Because many of the refugees were placed in schools or empty buildings, they were sleeping on a piece of cardboard; there were no mattresses and pillows. And with temperatures reaching 113 degrees during the day, a third need made itself known -- air coolers, especially important for families with young children or the elderly."
A few days after the first help arrived in one Christian village, a man loaded bags filled with water and food items out of his pick-up truck. A group of refugees waited in the shadow of the church. Some refugees waited in line to register for help with the priest.
"When you hear that people are arriving without any food or water, having walked for half a day or longer with only a plastic bag with their belongings, you just want to provide help," says the field worker. "People can live a day without water, but in this heat, of course, it was imperative that we needed to act immediately."
Other Christian initiatives were also put into place. In a village near a checkpoint, a place where the army checks the people that want to enter the region, Christian villagers collected $1,000 to purchase water and food items to distribute to the refugees that were waiting in the heat.
"Initiatives like this are encouraging. They are examples of the charitable spirit we want to encourage," says the Open Doors regional manager for the Middle East.
Open Doors supports these often poor Christian villagers and churches through local partner organizations with the finances they need in order to be able to continue to act in this charitable spirit.
Open Doors encourages the Christians to serve non-Christians trying to find refuge in their area. "We believe that it's important for the church to be a light for all; to show the love of Christ to their neighbors. Even if those people have showed an anti-Christian attitude before," adds the regional manager.
Soon Open Doors hopes to support 2,000 families in 21 villages, even the most remote ones. With reports of increasing persecution and violence in Mosul, local Christians don't know if they'll ever be able to safely return to their homes.
"It might have been the last time that Christians flee Mosul as I expect that soon all Christians will have left the city," shares a field worker.
Over the years the Open Doors ministry in Iraq has included trauma support, biblical training for church leaders and Muslim Background Believers, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, community development projects and working with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kurdistan.
For almost 60 years Open Doors has worked in the world's most oppressive and restrictive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these places. Open Doors empowers persecuted Christians in the areas of Bible and gospel development, women and children's advancement and Christian community restoration. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
(To set up an interview or for more information, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email [email protected].)