We’ve all heard the horrible stories of persecution in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). The radical militant group is targeting people of various faiths and ethnic backgrounds with violence, including area Christians, forcing these people to flee their homes to save their lives.
Thanks to the generosity of many Focus friends, Sami Yacoub, the regional director of Focus on the Family Middle East, and his team have been helping the refugees. He’s recently returned from a trip to Amman, Jordan, where he saw first-hand what these people are facing. Sami met with local organizations and individuals who are on the front lines of the relief effort, and they’re brainstorming ways they can work together to provide both practical aid (such as food vouchers and blankets) as well as spiritual and emotional support.
I want to share with you parts of a conversation some of us at Focus on the Family (USA) had with Sami during his trip.
Focus USA: How are you feeling?
Sami: I feel well. I am emotionally touched and I feel the Lord has moved us all through the initiative of help.
F: Tell us what you first encountered when you arrived in Amman.
S: We went to a church in a popular but poorer area pastored by a missionary who has been living there for 16 years. It is one of the few churches here in Amman that are helping refugees. There was a long queue of people registering to come into the church to receive their food parcel. It breaks your heart.
Then we went to the church hall, there was worship and these people were standing, singing, and lifting up their hands, and even the words they were singing were like: “the love of God, and we are victorious in Him, and we seek His help.” And, these songs mean a lot to them! These people were singing with their heart rather than their mouth.
F: Sami, we talk a lot here in the US about what we hear in the news. But, it is very difficult for us to get an idea here about what’s happening over there.
S: You know, they call it here “a refugee tsunami.” Yes, like this big flood that came here. People came from Mosul and areas where ISIS is pushing them out and also other people came out of fear. You hear people, even children, saying, “I miss my bed. I miss my food. I miss my home.”
People here don’t only need food for their stomach but they are in desperate need of lifting up, encouragement, and support, to tell you the truth. People who have never experienced leaving home by force cannot imagine how these people think and feel.
Even relocation takes from one to two years. For one to two years people are living in halls, here. In church halls or yards that are split into squares by cloth curtains to be able to hold, for instance, 80 families. So the situation is much more difficult than to be described.
F: Were you surprised by what you saw in terms of what you thought was happening and then being on the ground?
S: My heart is broken, and I could not hold my tears! The church already had 100 families that were registered and that they help constantly and, today, 174 [additional] families pressed in. And, you see people are begging to come in because they are saying, “Tonight I am in the street.” [One man] said, “Having one blanket saves me the cost of kerosene fuel to warm up my kids.”
So, it’s more than food. Food is something. Medicine is something. Cleaning agents are something. But, the need here is for more than food.
I just had a meeting with a Christian founder of an NGO. She is focusing her work with refugee children. The agreement is that I would help her Vacation Bible School programs. She said the children are depressed and they need some activity. They need some singing, some drama, some stories, and this is a very creative way to help because there are people who will give food, and there are people who will give love and encouragement.
F: Sami, you spend a lot of time visiting with the pastor of this particular church. What has been his experience in terms of meeting the needs of the people coming in?
S: Well, he said the church has been helping refugees for many years, but this last wave of refugees is completely different than ever before. People are coming scared, broken, bare feet.
He said, “I usually – all my years here – I have had the door of my home open for people to come in any time they need help.” But, because of that very high wave of refugees that came, he had to lock his home gate for the first time to get his breath.
His wife is working with a group of Jordanian volunteers. They are doing a great, great job to bear these people’s anger. Because when people are in need and they don’t have a place, they are angry as well. People are pushing even pushing the door. So, even the volunteers here are doing a great job.
There are people from other churches that are helping also. [The refugees] are in need for food, blankets, and rent – but they need people to talk to them.
F: Tell me more about that.
S: People, they feel – how do you call this? – they feel that they are outcasts. They need not sympathy, but they need someone to give them a hand. These refugees, for some people in the community here, they are not accepted.
F: Do they feel isolated?
S: They feel rejected. Not from everyone, but from some, they feel rejected. People, they need love and they need acceptance. These are very basic needs as much as food and housing. That is a need! We as Focus on the Family, we will continue to help.
I always like people from Focus Middle East who come regularly here, just to meet people and sit with them on the floor. Share with them, talk with them, let them cry, let them take a handkerchief, and dry their tears. I think this is what is needed, and I think this is a duration of a couple of years.
F: How many churches in Amman are doing what this church pastor is doing?
S: I think there are four or five churches. I have met already two and am still meeting three this evening before I go. But, this is too little for the big need.
We were talking about hope this afternoon. These people need hope. These people have no hope. I just prayed, “Lord, I’m sure out of this stress You have a plan. What kind of plan do You have? And, how can You communicate it to this people? “
I think this is for an opportunity where the Holy Spirit has given a job that we cannot do. We only have to pray and watch.
Our prayer is that at the end, it will show the love of Christ to people.
How can our hearts not be moved after reading Sami’s words of such dire need? The good news is there is so much the Church in the U.S. can do to help our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
Here’s what Focus’ global ministry team recommends:
Our best efforts are for naught if we don’t pray on behalf of our brothers and sisters and the other victims of ISIS persecution. Let’s pray for their physical protection and needs. However, as Sami points out, there’s also a need for us to pray that their faith remains strong and their spirits high during this time of great trial.
Sami and the Focus on the Family Middle East team have identified several trustworthy partners who can help deliver physical, emotional and spiritual relief and help. You can designate a donation to be used for this cause by calling 1-800-A-FAMILY. Your financial gifts will be used to help refugees prepare for winter by providing them warm, wool blankets, kerosene fuel, and housing, and tents. The team also hopes to start a preschool program for 70 children. Finally, Sami wants to provide trauma counseling for these victimized families and children.
The need is great, so we would be wise to do everything we can to learn more about the plight of the persecuted church and share this knowledge with other believers. If you want to learn more about this situation, you can read my blog post, “Praying for Our Christian Family in Iraq” and listen to the broadcast by the same name. Another useful resource comes from Focus’ ThrivingFamily.com: “Talking to Kids About the Persecuted Church.”
The Iraq and Jordan refugee relief initiative is part of Focus on the Family’s larger effort to serve families around the world. Our global team works with 12 international offices and ministry partners in 60 countries to deliver trusted resources, relevant programs, compassionate biblical counseling, and meaningful help to families in search of answers. We can’t do this work without you, so thank you for your support.
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