Samaritan’s Purse offers hope to refugees.
Of Mahmod’s 37 extended family members, ISIS is still holding 23 of them —including his wife and six of his seven children. He was able to buy one of them back for $35,000, but he didn’t have enough money to purchase any others. His eyes drift downward as he tells how his 12-year-old daughter was given to an ISIS fighter. The heartbroken father is one of more than a million people forced to flee for their lives to the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, taking nothing but the clothes on their backs with them.
Those who escaped share similar horror stories. The reign of terror began with executions. Some went without food. Nearly all lived in constant fear of flogging, prison or worse. The best option for families was to just try to keep everyone inside as much as possible.
Many girls and boys have not gone to school for years. They were forced to witness evil that no youngster — or anyone for that matter — should ever see.
In the beginning, some families could afford to rent temporary housing, but now almost two years into the crisis, many are left to rely on displacement camps for shelter. No one knows when he or she might be able to return home. Samaritan’s Purse has been there with them from the beginning and continues to provide for their physical needs while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with them.
Wisam began working with Samaritan’s Purse as a translator in November 2014. Just three months earlier, he had fled the ISIS takeover of his hometown, Qaraqosh, a traditionally Christian city of 100,000. He escaped in his tiny red 1994 Opel packed with 14 people. Serving alongside the organization’s staff, Wisam soon discovered a difference between his version of Christianity — visiting church once or twice a year — and the personal relationship his co-workers have with Christ. He was delighted to learn that he could talk to God in prayer — just one aspect of the Good News he previously did not understand.
Hearing the gospel brought him new life. “We lost everything, but we gained Jesus,” he said. “He changed my heart.”
Nestled in an historic Christian village in northern Iraq’s mountains sit homes that once accommodated visitors intent on enjoying cooler temperatures and rugged scenery. The area was even a favorite of Saddam Hussein. The ruins of one of his castles can be seen atop a local hill. Those quieter days are long gone now.
As ISIS violently entered the region, village residents welcomed fellow Iraqis fleeing the group’s extreme brutality. Now, along a gravel road where many of the displaced are living, there are three small trailers and two tents that make up the Samaritan’s Purse Child-Friendly Learning Space to help children ages 6 to 12 who have undergone terrible trauma.
Inside of one of the 10-by-16 foot trailers, a dozen 6- to 7-year-olds gather in a tight circle of small red and green plastic chairs for their Bible story class. As their teacher reads the story, they follow along in their books complete with color pictures. Then the students take turns retelling the story in their own words, and the class claps after each student’s story. At the end of class, they all join hands to pray — their teacher leading and the students repeating after her in unison.
During the basic skills class, on the other hand, the students clean their desks and chairs and learn about picking up trash around their homes in the village. They also study hygiene. When there was a cholera outbreak in Iraq last fall, teachers educated students on prevention.
An 8-year-old boy named Akram said, “Everything in the school is very good. I like the music lessons.” Since studying with Samaritan’s Purse, Akram learned to play the tambur, a Turkish stringed instrument.
Noora, a 13-year-old girl, is happy to be studying because while many of the people in her family cannot read and write, now she can. “When the Child-Friendly Learning Space came, it was like hope started for us,” she said. She also remembers, “When ISIS came, we just ran away. We didn’t think we’d see our family again.”
Her 14-year-old friend Shad agrees. “They killed people and destroyed homes.” Reflecting on the Samaritan’s Purse school, she said, “It helps me forget about what’s happened to us. I was afraid of shouting before, but because of the school, it’s helped me forget about ISIS.”
The teachers receive training to help them understand the trauma the children have experienced and how to be sensitive to this as they teach. “We’re given a different vision of teaching,” said a teacher named Kasim. The staff sees the children as more than students. “My daughters, 83, and my boys, 59. This is my family.”
When the displaced people arrived in the community, the welcome they received from the church blessed them. Kasim said, “I want to say thank you to Jesus because he taught me this way of helping people.”
Across Iraq, Samaritan’s Purse continues to go into the frontlines of conflict and poverty to seize this moment for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most recently, we sent an emergency field hospital to the Plains of Nineveh in close proximity to the town of Mosul, which was in the midst of fierce fighting between Iraqi Security Forces and ISIS. The hospital was equipped with an emergency room, two operating rooms and nearly 50 beds.
The hospital’s first patient arrived less than an hour after it officially opened. An 8-year-old girl had been hit with shrapnel from a mortar round in her pelvic area. She lost massive amounts of blood and was in shock. Shortly after, a second ambulance arrived carrying three women who had been injured by a car bomb. A few minutes later, yet another ambulance came with two patients who had been shot by a sniper.
None of these innocent civilians would have had a chance at life if they had to rely on the next nearest hospital in the town of Erbil. Although the Samaritan’s Purse staff isn’t able to save them all, they at least have a chance. Most importantly, in their most desperate hours, they are being showered with the love of Christ and assured that God has not forgotten them.
The director of the hospital, Dr. David Gettle, described this critical mission: “Initially, people may see us just as a medical facility providing treatment. But what they will find when they come here is that they will also be swept with love and care by Christian medical professionals who will not only save their lives but who will be witnesses for the compassion and mercy of Christ. We are here to plant seeds in the Nineveh plains, and we trust God to cultivate them.”
The name Samaritan’s Purse comes from the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, which gives a clear picture of God’s desire for us to engage the world around us by helping those in desperate need wherever we find them. After describing how the Samaritan rescued a hurting man who had been overlooked by others, Jesus told his hearers to “Go and do likewise.”
For more than 40 years, Samaritan’s Purse has striven to follow Christ’s command by going to the aid of the world’s poor, sick and suffering. This work earns a hearing for the gospel.
As Samaritan’s Purse teams work in Iraq and other crisis areas of the world, people often ask, “Why did you come?” The answer is always the same: “We have come to help you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” As the Apostle Paul said in engaging the world of his day, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
Ken Isaacs serves as the vice president of Programs and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse. During his more than 25 years of leadership, he has directed disaster responses globally, including the Ebola virus in Liberia, the Nepal earthquake, the Syrian refugee crisis and the ISIS displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. This is an excerpt from his article in the 2017 spring edition of Outcomes Magazine.