I am sure the situation in Iraq is concerning us all and we feel ‘What can I do?’ Here is an opportunity to read a personal story. It was sent to me recently by a friend from those on the ground and will tell you one way in which you can help. The help is not a Newfrontiers initiative as such, but all donations are channelled through Newfrontiers churches. I am sure there are some who would like to contribute to bringing relief to some of those whom we read about daily.
Walls of Nineveh
Photo Credit: james_gordon_losangeles via Compfight cc
Grace says: A few days ago I had the honor of interviewing a Christian couple from Iraq currently living as refugees.
As the news fills up with opinions and the most gory report gets the headlines, there’s something powerful in sitting and listening to one couple’s tale. I have tried to simply let them speak and share their story with you, making only minor edits for clarity. May you be blessed and challenged by what you read.
Please be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post for a way you can be practically involved.
Grace: Thank you, Bashar and Sosy, for sharing your story. Could you introduce yourselves first, say where you are from, and tell us a bit about yourselves?
Sosy: My name is Sosy. I come from Iraq with an Armenian background. My family is actually from Nineveh – from Mosul. I grew up in a Christian family, and we used to go to the Orthodox church. It was something normal for us.
Then after the war in 2003 someone from a Muslim background invited me to the [Protestant] church. We went to the church and I accepted Jesus then. Someone prayed with me and when he was praying he said “Thank you Lord because you lift her like wings of eagles.” And I started to remember every step that God was with us. Even maybe I was far from him before, but He was in every step with us and He was waiting. So after that I started to serve in the church, and actually I became very busy! [Laughing]
Then Bashar and I got married in 2009 in Baghdad. Bashar was working in very difficult places, in Christian organizations, helping people and going to many dangerous places. Sometimes he would tell me “Maybe I will go and never come back.” So I said, “Ok, I’m coming with you. What should I do alone?”
Then we decided to leave Iraq. So he sent me to Jordan to be with my parents, who are now in America. I stayed there 2 months then we came to Turkey together. Now we are waiting in Turkey for the UN to process our application. We have been here 3 years now. After this we will hopefully be accepted to go to another country, like America or Australia.
Grace: So Bashar, did you grow up in a Christian background family as well?
Bashar: My family was Anglican – from a Protestant church. My father and my grandfather also.
But I didn’t believe like my family. I was a fighter on the street. I did anything for money. My family isn’t poor, they didn’t need the money, but I liked the street from the beginning. I feel I have power in this situation. After that I had many jobs, but everything went in one night – I don’t know how. I didn’t know anything about God, but I asked how this could happen? Who is God?
There was a pastor who didn’t know me, but he had a dream about me, and he came to me, like Paul. He came and said to me “God sent me for you. I’ve had a dream about you from 2 years. You do something in the street… God gave you something, and He wants you.” I said to myself, who is this crazy guy? What does he want with me?
Grace: How did the pastor know how to find you?
Bashar: My uncle is working with him as a deacon in Iraq. He’s my example, and I love him. The pastor asked him and the family, and they said “If you talk with anyone, it will be good. But this one [Bashar points to himself], this one will not change. It’s impossible for him.
The pastor started to come talk with me, inviting me. He wanted to talk with me after a service one time, but I really wanted to go smoke. He said “Have you accepted Jesus? Come pray with me” like this. So I was like “Yeah, I accept Jesus, yeah, yeah, ok, I want to go smoke!” What does this guy want?
But after one month I saw that some people cheated him in the church. I tried to help him and he saw my heart. He asked me to go to a conference in the North of Iraq and I saw the Kurdish there, and they are believing! How can this be? They are Muslims! I don’t know about this way – this is not Christianity. Because our family, the Arab people, they grow up with a Muslim background. And they believe that if you are born to a Muslim family, you will be Muslim. If you are born to a Christian family you are a Christian. We are raised this way. But this is wrong thinking.
I saw these people praying and getting ready to share the gospel. And I thought, ok, I can give out books too [Bibles], I can be a hero! But the man said, “Come, I’ll tell you why we pray. Listen. A man killed the brother of this man. And now he will go to him, give him Bible, and tell him Jesus loves you.
What?! If someone killed my brother I will kill him. What is this thinking? Are you crazy? And these are Muslims, and they are acting like this. And I am a “Christian” by my background!
I went back to Baghdad and said ‘yes’, I must be a hero like this. If I want to be a hero I must follow Jesus.
And at that time my life changed. I would go anywhere and give Bibles. They throw it at me. They would do many things to me, and I accept it.
For example I heard about someone who could not walk now because of me. It was my job before. I was a fighter. And this really hurt me. I went to them and said “Remember me? I hurt you, I’m sorry.” He spoke badly with me. I said, “I love you, because my life is changed. Sorry what I did to you, please accept my apology.” He didn’t accept it.
I started to work for a church and an organisation to give out Bibles, to give food, to help people. From now on this is my work. And I have a team. God opened doors for me. I say, “The street is for me.” It’s what God gave me. And He used me in that. In 6 months we gave out about 3 million Bibles – children’s Bibles, stories for youth, for adults. God opened doors.
I met everyone on the street. I met Al Qaeda. I met the Shia. I met the Sunni. I met the Christians. All of them had problems with me, even the Christians. The Iraqi [Orthodox] church accept us and what we give, but they don’t accept us as church. Our [Protestant] church was about 1,500 families in Baghdad, right in the middle.
With time the people I met on the street got to know me and they hurt me too much. I can’t stay now I have a family, but my heart is in Iraq. I wish some day I will go back to serve the people there, and I feel God will open a door for me.
Grace: How has this experience of leaving Iraq changed you? What has God been teaching you?
Sosy: In Turkey God changed me in a different way. Like taking responsibility, being with people all the time, getting more busy. Our prayer to God is not to let us get in a position where we forget Him – where we are too busy in His service.
I feel in these 2 years that God has changed me more than ever before. We’ve been here 3 years, but these past 2 years were different for us as a family. We were very hurt by the church before we left, and we have found healing here. Now I know why God wants us here. God has healed our wounds. Also our little boy was born here, and he is such a big blessing for us.
The biggest thing for us is that we are learning to live by faith. Sometimes we don’t know what we will do for food and for money. And then my mom will call and say she sent us some money. We are learning to live by faith.
And there are needy people all around us. People who have nothing. It’s so hard to know how to help. What can we do? They want things from the church and we try to help. We might say, ok, the church can give you 50%, and you pray. They also have to learn to live by faith.
Bashar: We have been very blessed here. We have furniture, we have received gifts from some people. We serve with the church here giving out food packages to refugee families – Christian and Muslim. I have many friends among the Muslims. They say, “We see the light of Muhammad on you.” Sometimes when they leave the country [cleared through UN asylum program] they call me and ask if I can come take everything in their home and give it to other needy people. They say “People helped us, and now we can help someone else.”
Grace: How can believers pray for Iraq?
Bashar: If we want to pray, pray for stopping the bloodshed. Because all of the ground isn’t water any more, it’s blood, the blood of the people. And most of them are believers.
In one area, like Baghdad, when Saddam Hussain was going there were 11 churches open. And Mosul also. We have many churches that met in homes but were also open. But they are going now and they don’t know what they will do. And they [Islamic State] have started now with Baghdad.
If the salt and the light goes out of Iraq it will be dark. And Jesus said we are the salt. We are the light. It will be darkness for them. And there will be only more bloodshed. There are people who can’t help themselves. They don’t have money to leave. They will stay and die. Pray for our nation. Pray that there will be light in Iraq.
We don’t have life in Iraq. It’s not our country anymore. We want this country, but the county doesn’t want us. Yes, there are people from outside, but it’s more from Iraqis that don’t want us. Some people in the government say “No, we like Christians. We want you to stay.” We like you too, but we don’t want to die.
Grace: How can we pray for your family?
Bashar: I learned that they [Islamic State in Baghdad] want to take my older brother to kill him. Now he is staying in the home and never going out. My mother is with them, my brother and his wife and their two daughters. But I hope they will come soon, hopefully in 1 or 2 weeks. There is a problem with passports, so please pray that they can come soon with no complications.
Sosy: Also, please pray for my mother. She lives in America now and we cannot see her. [Sosy’s passport ran out in 2012 and she will not be able to get a new one until she gets travel papers from the UN to their new assigned home country. Their young son also has no passport.] Of course with the situation in Iraq this is a little thing. But it is a big thing for my mother. She really misses us, and she wants to meet our son one day.
Grace: Bashar and Sosy, thank you both for sharing your story. We will certainly be in prayer for your families and for the Iraqi people – that the bloodshed would stop, and that Light would shine in your country.
Friends, if you are like me, you read the current news reports coming out of the Middle East and wonder what to do. With the escalation of violence over the past months, more and more refugees are making their way out of Iraq. Bashar talked about meeting a family from Mosul last week who had just arrived. They had only $400 to start a new life. Others have fled with nothing at all, not even clothes, and are living on the street. The UN process to get people asylum in other countries currently takes at least 2 years. Those who have come with nothing face seemingly insurmountable challenges
But in addition to prayer, here’s some action you can take right now to support refugees on the ground:
The church in Sosy and Bashar’s city has a food package program which currently serves about 150 families each month. Some families receive a food package once a month, while most receive every 2 weeks. The packages are distributed mostly to Iraqi and Iranian refugee families, both Christian and Muslim, with a team responsible for sorting and distribution. Several on the food team are Iraqi bodybuilders, and their muscles come in handy! For some families this help is what gets them through the month.
Would you consider donating to this food program?
Each food package costs about 60 lira – that’s approximately £16.50 GBP, or $27.50 USD. Perhaps your family would like to give money to support a refugee family. Maybe your church would like to provide a one-time donation, or support a certain number of packages per month. This is a comparatively small program set up through the local church with very minimal administrative costs. It’s direct aid to people who need it.
If you would like to donate through the United Kingdom you can do so via a sister church in England. You are able to set up a standing order or donate via an online system by CLICKING HERE. Be sure to choose “Yalova Support” from the drop-down menu under online giving where it states ‘My donations are for:’.
If you would like to donate via the United States, a church has partnered to receive donations there also. CLICK HERE to give online (be sure to select the “Yalova Refugees” fund) or, if you’d like to send a check, CLICK HERE for the address and be sure to put “Yalova Refugees” in the check’s memo line.
“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.” — 2 Corinthians 8:13-14