IRAQ: Running for their lives
Thanks to your support, Release partner Jamal continues to help Christian refugees living in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. Some families have even managed to return to their homes.
Nahal, a Christian widow, lived with her young son in the city of Afrin, northern Syria, during the civil war.
‘When Turkish forces invaded Afrin District in January 2018, we were under attack for three months,’ she recalls. ‘Conditions were really harsh. We saw dead bodies on the streets, which were left for days, and we suffered power cuts, contaminated water and lack of food.’
‘One night, after the city was encircled entirely, there was just one route left to escape through areas controlled by the Syrian regime – but the road was very dangerous. So my son and I packed our bags, and with a miracle from the Lord, we fled the city.’
In fact, on that day Nahal and her son joined an estimated 10,000 people who were running for their lives.
‘We were forced to wait at a crossing, along with another Christian family. Then a bomb attack forced the defending Kurdish forces to leave their position – and suddenly the road ahead of us became clear. Eventually we managed to get to a Syrian-controlled town about 20 km away, where we stayed with a family.‘
‘Soon we found a smuggler to take us to another city. However, even there, I was still afraid that terrible things could happen to us. Militants were attacking Christian and Yazidi families – and we could easily be killed, or kidnapped for ransom. Conditions in the city were deteriorating and my health was suffering.’
‘We managed to travel to the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq, hoping to find better treatment and assistance. We went to Erbil, the capital, and settled in. Our situation was not good because of the high cost of living and the lack of job opportunities. But we never lost hope – since God is always for us’.
‘After a while, we were introduced by some Christian brothers and sisters to an organisation that provides all kinds of services to assist refugees.’
After their long, painful and dangerous journey, Nahal and her son had finally reached Release’s partner, Hand of Help.
‘Children, adults, the elderly – all refugees deserve the right to be treated as valued human beings,’ said Hand of Help founder Jamal.
‘We provide support to refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq and Syria who have fled their homes and now live in poverty. Many have lost family members and cannot provide for their children.‘
‘We provide food packages, housing, education and vocational training to hundreds of refugee families fleeing war and persecution,’ said Jamal. ‘While Covid-19 has limited our movement, it has not stopped us from getting supplies to the needy in our region.’
Jamal and his team gave food parcels to Nahal and her son, and later vocational training, so Nahal could learn to sew. ‘This encouraged me to find work and meet the financial needs of my family,’ she said. In addition Nahal joined a discipleship group to strengthen her Christian faith. ‘That was crucial for me, to know more about the Lord.’
Syrian refugee Nasser and his family have also benefited thanks to your support.
In 2012 he, his wife and three children fled from the city of Homs – one of the key battlegrounds in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. During the war thousands in the region were killed, and the city bombed to devastation.
‘I fled with my family to the capital Damascus, which was the safest place at the time. We left everything behind and took refuge there,’ he said. While this was a huge upheaval for the family, Nasser in retrospect can see God’s hand at work – even at times of crisis.
Nasser had struggled with Christianity for many years. ‘In my childhood I grew up in a Christian orphanage, and we had to go to church every day before school. Whenever I went to see my grandmother, she would explain to me about our heavenly Father and His love and care. She told me stories from the Bible and how God provides for our food, clothing, and all our needs.’
‘As an adult, however, I blamed God for having a difficult life as a child. My grandmother had said He was my heavenly Father – but I did not experience this because I had lost my own father.’
‘One day in Damascus I was in conversation with a friend. I told him that I did not believe in God. But he started to talk about God’s love for me, and invited me to his church in the city. He insisted, and in the end I decided to go with him.’
‘During the service, the pastor talked about the father heart of God – and how God accepts us. He explained that we are all sinners and separated from God. These words really affected me, and here my life took a new turn.’
‘I devoted my life to God’s service. I prayed and invited new brothers to the church. Every day I used to go out early to distribute Bibles to displaced people from other parts of Syria. Some of them accepted the Lord Jesus as their Saviour.’
‘Then the security situation in Syria became worse, and because of my evangelistic activities, I did not feel safe anymore. So my whole family was forced to move again – this time to the north of Iraq.’
The family soon made contact with Jamal, who provided them with food, shelter and pastoral care.
‘We were also invited to join a course about discipleship and spiritual growth,’ said Nasser. ‘We needed that since we were going through difficult circumstances.’ He also received training to become an electrician, hoping to become self-supporting in the future.
‘I cannot forget the significant role of this organisation and its positive impact on my life and indeed my whole family. We pray that the Lord will bless the work of this ministry, as they help displaced families spiritually and practically. May all the glory and honour be to our God.’
While much of Jamal’s ministry to date has been focused on helping refugees survive their ordeal, he is delighted in recent months to have helped a few families to return to their homes in Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains, some 60km west of Erbil.
This city had been captured by Islamic State (IS) in 2014, forcing most of the population to flee. During their occupation they destroyed many buildings – especially Christian sites. After IS were driven from the town in October 2016, it slowly became possible for displaced families to return to their homes – if they were still standing.
When Nader, a gentle, elderly man tried to return to Qaraqosh with his son and daughter, he was shocked to find their home uninhabitable.
‘This horrible news was almost too much for him to bear,’ said Jamal. ‘Nevertheless, he determined to do the best they could, and started to rebuild their home, which was severely dilapidated.’
‘However, this task was too much for them: the family had few resources, and Nader was becoming quite weak and finding it difficult to walk.’
‘We thank God that we were able to help them to complete rebuilding and refurbishing their home, and to repaint and replaster the brick work. Soon the house was looking better than ever – and Nader and his family were so appreciative!’
Thanks to your support, Release was also able to help Mazen, his wife and two young daughters to return to their home – also in Qaraqosh.
‘When they went back to the city, the girls didn’t even recognise their home,’ said Jamal. ‘It had been badly damaged and burnt after a rocket exploded close by. We stepped in and fixed the doors, walls and floors, re-decorated the house and made the house a home again, and a place of safety.’
Mazen told Jamal: ‘Now we and our children can start our life again. I would like to thank you and everybody who made it possible for us to return home.’
- for the thousands of Christian families from Syria and Iraq still living in Kurdistan
- thank God for all those who have been able to return home, such as Nader and Mazen and their families
- that God will give His strength and resources to Jamal and his team as they continue to care for refugees
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN KURDISTAN
Forthcoming online speaker tour
We’re delighted that our partner Jamal will be speaking to supporters online over four evenings from November 1-4. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to hear the latest news from Jamal first hand.
For more details, see here.
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