God is moving powerfully in Iraq through the ministry of Release International partner Jamal Liddawi.
During a four-day online speaking tour for Release, Jamal, a Christian from a Muslim background, described how his Hand of Help organisation is giving new hope to Christian refugees in northern Iraq.
These are Christians who have fled the conflict with Isis and who have been given a safe haven in the region of Kurdistan. And through remarkable favour with the government, Jamal’s work has been extended to help displaced Muslims and Yazidis.
Before the upheavals of the Gulf War and the onslaught of Isis, there were around 1.8 million Christians in Iraq, from a variety of denominations.
That was in 2003. Today there are considered to be fewer than 400,000 Christians living in Iraq. ‘Many have left the country because they don’t feel safe,’ says Jamal.
But through his ministry, those whose lives have been torn apart by war are being equipped with the skills and equipment they need to begin a new life.
As well as distributing relief aid, Hand of Help train seamstresses, electricians and hairdressers and teach computer skills. And they send each off with the tools and equipment they need to set up businesses of their own.
Through all of this comes the message of Christ’s love. Jamal’s team uses the Gospel of Luke to teach his students keyboard skills.
The Kurdistan government has seen the remarkable work Hand of Hope is doing and is right behind it. Government ministers have presented training certificates to graduates, and the country’s parliament has presented the ministry with its Shield of Honour.
The government has given this openly Christian ministry access to teach at a prison and to work in camps for displaced Muslims and Yazidis.
Says Jamal: ‘This is a Muslim country and we are a Christian organisation. We clearly say we are Christian and yet they allow us to go to the camps. It’s amazing!
‘We even show the Jesus movie and other Christian movies in the camp for the teenagers.’
When Isis was defeated in 2018, Iraqi Christians began returning to their villages on the Nineveh Plains. But most found their homes had been destroyed.
Hand of Hope has repaired 27 houses in the Christian town of Qaraqosh, but the need is enormous. Thousands of refugees are waiting on the border in Jordan for the opportunity to return home.
The ministry has also helped establish a church in the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and has been instrumental in bringing the first Kurdish translation of the New Testament into the country.
Work began on this ground-breaking translation by Biblica (International Bible Society) in the 1850s, but was disrupted time and again by war and instability. Finally it had come to fruition.
‘When I went to visit the Minister of Religious Affairs at the time and gave him the New Testament in Kurdish he was delighted,’ says Jamal. ‘He told me: “Can you get me another 200 of these? I have 200 imams under my ministry, and I want them to read the Bible in their mother tongue and understand exactly what Christians believe.”‘
In Iraq and Kurdistan, to be able to translate, print or distribute any religious book, three licences are required from the government. ‘It can take years to print a single book,’ says Jamal.
‘But because God has given us favour with the government, we have been able to translate 45 Christian books into Kurdish and distribute them to all the international churches. We have been allowed to place all these books in 92 national libraries in the country.’
God has also opened a door to work with the Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, as Jamal explains: ‘The Lord brought a couple of generals to Christ through our ministry, and we became very good friends. They allowed us to distribute the Bible to their soldiers.’
In 2015, at the height of the conflict with Isis, one of those generals asked Jamal to come with him to the frontline. He wanted him to pray for his troops before they launched their attack.
‘A few days later he called me and said, “Jamal, none of us has been hurt, none of us has been injured; we are all safe. Thank you so much for your prayers.”
‘The Kurdish people have opened their hearts, their homes and everything to us in the region,’ adds Jamal, whose ministry is supported by Release International. ‘It’s amazing how the Lord has opened these doors for us.’
Release CEO Paul Robinson has travelled with Jamal to Iraq. He said at the online event hosted by Release: ‘Ever since Jamal gave his life to Christ, he’s not stopped seeking to serve those who are persecuted. He’s a real example to us all. And he reaches out even to those who could be the persecutors – often at risk to himself and his team. Please keep praying for them.’