Written by Scott Vair, President/CEO of World Orphans
ISIS Was Coming
Rosum is the leader of a group of twenty Shabak families from a small village outside of Mosul, Iraq. Shabaks are Kurds that have Iranian roots, speak Arabic, and are some of the persecuted minorities being targeted by ISIS.
On August 7, Rosum received word ISIS was headed toward their village. To make matters worse, Sunni Iraqi’s from a nearby village were joining forces with ISIS and were descending on them from the north.
With only two hours to spare, Rosum and these twenty Shabak families escaped, taking only a few belongings, traveling the dangerous Mosul Highway to Kalak.
They stayed in Kalak for two days, but they knew they needed to escape further (ISIS stormed Kalak the next day). Rosum suspected Erbil would be inundated with refugees, so their path led them to Soran – a town of 100,000 in the mountains of Northern Iraq. The mayor of Soran made arrangements for them to temporarily stay in a partially constructed building, but they knew their journey was not yet over.
ISIS Was Near
Billy Ray and Tim Buxton, along with their families, serve with World Orphans in Northern Iraq. Soran, nestled in the mountains near the borders of Turkey and Iran, has become their home. Erbil is the closest major city where they do all of their banking and major shopping.
On August 7, a rumor spread through Erbil that ISIS had entered the city. That rumor proved to be false, but the terrorists were nearby and the threat was growing. The US began airstrikes to protect fleeing Yazidi families and to protect “American assets” in Erbil.
Uncertain of how effective the airstrikes would be and not wanting to wait until it was too late, the Rays and Buxtons temporarily evacuated to Turkey via a safe corridor around the front lines.
Bolstered by air support, the Kurdish Persmerga forces pushed ISIS back from Erbil and retook the strategic Mosul Dam, turning the tide.
Mayor Krmanj Dergali of Soran has been a friend to World Orphans for the past five years as we have developed the acre of land the city gave World Orphans to serve widows and orphans. Today the property includes a community center and soccer field. Mayor Krmanji has the unenviable task of finding shelter and providing care for over 2,000 displaced families who have fled to his city. Many are staying in schools and unfinished/abandoned buildings.
When the Rays and Buxtons returned, they immediately met with Mayor Krmanji and asked him how World Orphans could help. Mayor Krmanji said, Billy, I have 20 families living in a partially built apartment building that have to move, they cannot stay where they are. Can you set up a refugee camp on your property for them? They need to move in a week.
World Orphans is not a refugee ministry. We do not have experience in setting up or running a refugee camp. But we know that God has us strategically placed to be able to make a difference in the region. In fact, we named the community center “The Refuge” years ago praying it would become just that to people in need.
We also know that the refugee/alien/sojourner is listed with orphans and widows in Scripture as those we are to care for.
So, we said yes!
We began to transform the remaining unused portion of our property into a refugee camp:
- 98 dump truck loads of debris were hauled away
- 102 dump truck loads of gravel were put down
- 22 tents were assembled, including electricity and lights in each
- 13 aluminum water tanks were positioned
- 22 air coolers were purchased
- 1 bathroom and shower block is being constructed
On September 9, I had the privilege of being in Soran to welcome Rosum and his twenty Shabak families to The Refuge.
I told Rosum we were sorry for what they have endured, that they had to flee their homes in such uncertainty, not knowing when they will be able to return.
But I also told Rosum that we wanted them to feel welcome, that we hoped this would be their temporary home – not a camp. I told him we cared about them and that we were here to serve them.
Their path is uncertain. Their village has been looted and littered with landmines, and their homes have been booby-trapped. They do not know when it will be safe to return. Rosum wept that evening, overwhelmed by the weight of the past month.
World Orphans will stand with them. God has graciously connected our paths, and we are honored to be a part of their story.
Thank you for partnering with us as we care for these precious families, our journey is not yet over. Will you join us? We would be honored by your support.