By Scott Vair | President
In my nine years with World Orphans, I’ve traveled to 25 countries to meet with pastors, leaders, and government officials to talk about the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable, and, most often, the orphan. I’ve been to Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, China, and the Middle East, and in those travels, I’ve experienced many different cultures and people groups. But, until last August, I’d never heard of the Yazidis.
So who are they? What’s their story?
In early August 2014, their story gripped much of the world, as they became a primary target of the terrorist group ISIS. They were forced to flee their homes; thousands were stranded on Sinjar Mountain in Northern Iraq. Major news agencies were suddenly taken with this ancient people group, and they quickly began to report their terrible situation.
“Singled out, threatened, chased at gunpoint from their homes. Pursued purely because they are members of an ethnic and religious minority. Iraq's Yazidi Kurds are no strangers to persecution. Their faith teaches them that throughout history, they have been subjected to 72 genocides. Many world leaders fear they are on the brink of a 73rd massacre, this time at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which calls itself the Islamic State” (Ivan Watson, CNN, Aug 18, 2014).
“The Yazidis are a ethnic minority in Iraq made up mostly of ethnic Kurds and isolated from the rest of the population due to their ancient beliefs. Best estimates put the group's worldwide membership at approximately 700,000 people and while they have members living in Sweden and Germany, the vast majority are in the Middle East. Members of the group believe in an ancient religion linked to Zoroastrianism and are considered “heretics” by radical Islamists. This label has led to decades of persecution and now that ISIS has become more powerful in the region, they have targeted the group, forcing them out of their homes and into the mountains” (Meghan Keneally, ABC News, Aug 8, 2014).
“That renewed attack began at dawn on Monday when Islamic fighters attacked the southern part of the Mount Sinjar using Humvees and armored vehicles. Yazidi civilians were forced to retreat up the mountain where they are now trapped. Earlier this year, thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians were trapped by Islamic State fighters, prompting the U.S. to pursue an airstrike campaign against the militant group. ISIS has killed hundreds of Yazidis and has forced tens of thousands of others to flee for their lives since sweeping across Iraq, according to The Associated Press” (Fox News, Oct 24, 2014).
We watched in horror as reports of rape, murder, starvation, dehydration, and kidnapping flooded our news feeds. The US military got involved as they dropped water, food, and supplies to those stranded on Sinjar Mountain and provided air support to Kurdish Peshmerga forces battling ISIS.
Seeking refuge, the Yazidis fled to Northern Iraq, and that is where World Orphans enters the story.
As many of you know, World Orphans built our first refugee camp last September for 20 Shabak families from Mosul who also had also fled ISIS. It has been an amazing opportunity to serve in ways we never expected. The Lord has been gracious, indeed, giving us such a platform for ministry. Support for our work has been extraordinary—gifts large and small, from people, businesses, churches, authors, filmmakers, a major university, other ministries, and even Kurdish Regional Government officials—we couldn’t be more grateful.
This support has made it possible for us to join the story of the Yazidi people. We’ve just opened our second refugee camp, and 16 Yazidi families (about 100 people) have moved into their new homes.
Today, construction of camp #3 is well underway. Land is being leveled, and rock … lots and lots of rock … has been brought in to allow for proper drainage and a solid foundation. Kitchens are being built, bathrooms installed, electricity and water supplied. The construction is moving fast, and soon 55 more Yazidi families (nearly 250 people) will call this home.
All three of these are micro-camps; intentionally small so family leaders can manage them on site. They are being empowered to govern themselves, provide their own security, find their own food, get jobs, and support themselves. We are providing them with a safe place to live, a place to call home, for as long as they need. We are encouraging, building relationships, and living out our faith alongside them.
We are reminded in Deuteronomy 10:17-18 that “…the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
These Yazidi families and their children are in desperate circumstances. They’ve been attacked, they’ve been persecuted, they’ve fled their homes, and they are in danger. They must be preserved and protected.
Much of our focus at World Orphans is toward the preservation of highly vulnerable families, keeping them together, preventing orphaning from happening in the first place. The care of these Yazidi families fits perfectly into that strategy.
With the completion of our third camp, nearly 500 refugees have found safety and shelter in Northern Iraq. In each of these camps, World Orphans will be actively serving, loving, providing care, and walking alongside these families.
In these last seven months, we’ve found amazing favor with local leaders, and our staff in Soran has been working non-stop. So many efforts and hearts have come together—from prayers, to giving, to going, to serving, to thinking, to strategizing, to acting. What an amazing seven months this has been. And the next seven may be equally so!
We are endlessly grateful for how the Lord has positioned us and now led us into this incredible opportunity to serve and love in the midst of such great turmoil and tragedy. The fact that we are present and able is truly remarkable, and clearly the work of His hands. May He find glory and honor as we seek to do His work for His kingdom.