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Iraq

Choosing Hope in Suffering

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Choosing Hope in Suffering

What words do you use to provide comfort to a man who has just buried his child? When I sat down with Ahmed and his family, the question of what had caused so many birth defects was briefly raised, but then quickly swept under the carpet. I knew no words could soothe this type of grief…

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Pumpkin, Sweet Tea, and the King's Fellowship

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Pumpkin, Sweet Tea, and the King's Fellowship

I have a lot of memories filled with mouth-watering foods and beverages. Pumpkin takes me back to a dining room table where my family gathered for Thanksgiving, finishing off the experience by eating pumpkin pie. Sweet tea always makes me think of my grandfather and the huge glasses of sweet tea that he had in his refrigerator—tea so sweet that my teeth would ache from the sweetness. Those memories now make my heart ache, longing to still have him here with me. 

However, I’ve realized that travel—especially international travel—changes the way I see the world around me, including the food I eat and the beverages I drink. …

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Glimpsing Iraq: An Interview | Billy & Dawn Ray

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Glimpsing Iraq: An Interview | Billy & Dawn Ray

We've taken all our cues from the mayor. He's directed us to build the community center. Later on in the story, when the refugee crisis hit, he directed us to help the Shabak Kurds that had just fled Mosul. Later on, he asked if we'd be able to build a school. 

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Presidential Update: Exciting News from Iraq

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Presidential Update: Exciting News from Iraq

by President Scott Vair & Assistant Middle East Director Tim Buxton

Shabak Women at Kawlokan Village
Shabak Women at Kawlokan Village

It has been almost two years since ISIS swept through the Nineveh plains in brutal fashion, taking control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. For those who managed to escape to relative safety, the task of putting together the shattered pieces of their lives is often too much. The armies of ISIS are still in control of Mosul, and although the Peshmerga Kurdish Army, with the support of the US military and other Western allies, has retaken key territory in the region, the battle rages on. The possibility of these hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian families returning home anytime soon is an unrealistic dream. 

One of the greatest casualties of the war with ISIS are the thousands of children robbed of their future, no longer able to go to school to simply learn how to read, write, or just have fun. Guns, grenades, and untold acts of merciless violence have stolen so much from these innocent children.

Realizing the importance of education, our team in Iraq began to dream and plan a response. What began in July of last year as a couple days per week of fun games, learning activities, and informal English classes for 130 Yazidi and Shabak children (ages 3-18), has now grown into a full-fledged school that meets five days per week.

Today, there are five teachers of mixed ethnic backgrounds and two social workers (who are Syrian refugees) that provide English, math, art, science, geography, music, and sport classes.

These classes are held in six classrooms on the ground floor of our community center, where there is also a library, a large multipurpose hall, and an outdoor soccer field used by the children on a daily basis. Students are transported to and from the school by bus and are given daily refreshments that include fruit, cookies, juice, and water. 

If it weren’t for this school and other programs like it, these refugee children would be stuck in their camps, and likely be forced into child labor. Overcrowding and language barriers keep local schools from being an option for most refugee children. In some cases, the Iraqi and Syrian governments will not allow the students who miss more than two years of school to rejoin the classroom, forcing many students into the adult workforce prematurely. Without education many of these children will be left behind.

But, instead of losing all hope and missing out on their opportunity for an education, these children are now learning, growing, and dreaming in a caring environment. They are excited to come to school and their only complaint is that they cannot attend school more often. God has been gracious to give us this opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these precious children.

Unfortunately, our classrooms are busting at the seams. In just six months, the school has outgrown our community center. Without increased capacity, we will not be able to provide education for new children as we continue to expand our refugee ministry.

So, we are building a school!

Laying the foundation for the new school building

Laying the foundation for the new school building

Work is underway for the construction of a 16,000 square foot school that will have nine classrooms. The school will be built on a vacant area of land adjacent to our community center and soccer field. Not only will we be able to triple the size of our current student capacity, we will be able to provide more age-relevant education to the children, as we no longer have to combine multiple age groups into shared classes.

The community center will then be free to operate as an additional learning facility, providing various programs like trauma counseling, and sewing, cosmetic, computer, and trade classes.

We are grateful for all who have joined us on this journey to care for refugees and their children during these times. Would you consider joining us in prayer? Would you consider financially supporting this project as construction continues. It is both a daunting task and a wonderful opportunity, and we would be honored to have your support.

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A Father's Worst Nightmare

By Tim Buxton | Iraq Assistant Director

It was bright and early when I got the phone call that the expansion to our Yezidi refugee camp in Rwandz was ready for the tents. We had a team staying with us from New York City - good friends from Times Square Church - and it didn't take much convincing to get the guys pumped for a bit of good ole' brute labor. 

Assembling the tents with the New York team.

Buzzing from our morning coffee, the five of us loaded into the car and headed out to the camp - I had the feeling that today was going to be a good day!

We rolled into the camp around 9am with the sun already beating down on us with ferocious heat. Thankfully the heavy tent bags were already laid out on the ground evenly spaced in front of the concrete bathroom and kitchen facilities that had just been completed. A few minutes later a truck-load of Yezidi men and young boys showed up to lend a helping hand in putting up their new dwellings. This small camp was built to accommodate an additional ten larger Yezidi families that were not going to fit at our existing Yezidi camp in Rwandz. 

It didn't take long for a little cross-cultural confusion to ensue surrounding how best to put up the tents. The main culprit being the fact that we spoke hardly any of the unique Kurdish dialect that Yezidis use, and their English was practically non-existent. You could safely say that it was a great learning experience for the team of guys from New York. I like to see these situations as a wonderful opportunity to hone my "charades" skills and develop a little more patience. 

Much to our surprise things seemed to be going swimmingly when the Yezidi workforce took full control of the the tent assembly, leaving us with the opportunity to play a little soccer with the kids and take in the incredible scenery surrounding this camp. 

Tents going up at the Rwandz Camp extension.

I decided to wander over to one of the older Yezidi men who seemed to be visibly upset - his eyes peering off into the nearby mountains, welling up with tears. I was not quite sure what to do and I knew I didn't have the vocabulary to really ask what was on his mind. So I did all that I could do, I stood there beside him and placed my arm around his shoulders and silently looked up towards the same mountains.

The first tears began to roll down his cheek and it took everything within me to keep from choking up. Suddenly, he steps back and starts pulling at his chest and waving his hands across his neck, motioning a slit throat that could only mean one thing in this part of the world. I could barely process the amount of heartache he was trying to express to me. All I could say was "I'm so sorry" in my broken Kurdish. 

Soon after, the work was complete. Ten new tents had been successfully put up, and the five of us had barely worked up a sweat - aside from the two guys that went off to play soccer with the Yezidi boys.

As we were saying our goodbyes I noticed that the elderly man was in our circle of conversation and so I asked my Kurdish friend to translate for me what the man was trying to convey to me just 30 minutes earlier.

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The pain seemed to quickly reappear across the man's face as he explained again how ISIS had kidnapped more than a dozen women and young girls from their group whilst they were still at their home on Sinjar Mountain - wives, sisters, cousins and daughters. Just yesterday he got a call from the Iraqi city of Fallujah where a man belonging to ISIS offered the return of his daughter if he paid a ransom of $10,000. Again, his dramatic hand motions seemed to express more than his words ever could. It was a father's worse nightmare. 

What if he did come up with money, could he even be sure he would get his daughter back? And wasn't paying ransoms just another way of funding more terrorism and enabling ISIS to kidnap more women and children. I could barely even imagine what condition she would be in if he were to ever get his daughter back in his arms again. The stories of suicide, shame and mutilation of those who have managed to win their freedom from the hands of ISIS are enough to make your stomach churn. 

And as I stood there paralyzed in thought and emotion, my mind suddenly raced towards my own wife and children. What if it were my daughter, what would I, could I do to get her back. What shape would I be in emotional, physically, mentally. Something within me broke and I was overwhelmed with a sense of fear - as though I had just woken up from a nightmare, and yet I knew my family was at our home... safe. But for these Yezidi fathers, it was reality - the worst kind. 

I just couldn't look at these men the same anymore, these men who had just spent a few hours putting up a bunch of tents for their new home.

Now, almost a year later these Yezidi families are still in great need - broken apart and broken-hearted, hundreds of miles from their homeland.

Opening Day at our new Refugee Camp for 40+ Yezidi families.

Thankfully here in Rwandz Camp they are in a safe place, sheltered by the mountains that surround the ancient town of Rwandz, the once capital of the Soran Empire.

Through the efforts of The Refuge Initiative we have been able to provide 70+ Yezidi families with shelter, food, medicine, electricity and water. But we desire to give them so much more. Our goal is to provide these families with the care they need to bring healing into their lives and restore hope for a brighter, independent future. 

We all can make a difference, one family at a time. Just yesterday we began work an another small camp to accommodate a further 9 Yezidi families that are in desperate need of a place to live. Will you join us in praying for and supporting these Yezidi families? You can follow our efforts at The Refuge Initiative's Facebook page and make donations to the Iraq Emergency Fund here that directly funds our efforts to care for refugees and IDP's fleeing persecution. 

Beautiful, smiling girls at our first Yezidi camp in the Akoyan Valley.

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Yazidis: ISIS Ran Them Out—We Are Welcoming Them Home!

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

4.8.15_TheRefuge3These 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.

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Rescue Iraq: Project Akoyan

by Billy Ray | Middle East Director

Last week the Mayor of Rwanduz gave us a green light to begin building our second refugee camp on this stunning property.

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It's 2.5 spacious acres of some of the most naturally flat land in the whole area, which means a good break on our budget preparing it.

It will house 16 Yazidi families (or 150 people) that fled ISIS last August from Shingal (Sinjar) Mountain with the possibility of expansion to 60 total families.

The Mayor of Soran has already donated 18 tents from UNHCR, and so our plans can begin as soon as we're ready.

This week we broke ground!

groundbreaking

Let's do this!

3.12.15_Billy_2

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Iraq Update

At the start of 2015, we are witnessing the finishing touches of the Refuge Community Center Project, a vision that began over 6 years ago to provide vocational training for widows, educational classes for orphans, and now housing for refugees recently fleeing ISIS. Take a look at this 4 minute video and rejoice with us in all that God is doing to bring about His redemptive work in this land.

 

http://vimeo.com/118850326

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Iraq, ISIS, and The Refuge

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.

The Refuge

The Refuge Tents
The Refuge Tents

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.

He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
— Deuteronomy 10:18

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

Welcome

Children of The Refuge
Children of The Refuge

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.

Iraq Emergency Fund

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A Glimmer of Hope

By Billy Ray | Project Director in Iraqi-Kurdistan

The past month has simply been momentous in our work here in Iraqi-Kurdistan. It all started about four weeks ago when we were meeting with a Kurdish lady and her sister. She had heard about our community center project, and, in fact, lived just around the corner.

She was in a dilemma. With a government budget to provide sewing classes and other vocational programs, she no longer had a venue in which to operate. The community center that she had been working out of had recently been completely cut off from local foot traffic because of road construction that looks to never end, at least not in the near future.

So, obviously, we were looking for a Kurdish lady to partner with, and since we seemed to have the same heart for the women and children, we decided to take a step of faith.

The sewing classes have begun, and now they want to expand with some exercise courses. Without a moment's hesitation, they put up a sign at the back of our building, and the women are starting to come. It's amazing!

Praise God!

It's just always difficult to make that all important step from being a "building built by a foreign organization" to "a local facility run and operated by Kurds.” I believe that we're seeing a glimmer of hope in our work here. Dawn goes most afternoons now to be with the women and get to know them. She says, "They are just giddy with excitement!" (Just having a place to go is so special for them.)

Can you tell we have bigger smiles on our faces these days?

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Meet the Team - Billy Ray

Name and position with World Orphans.

Billy Ray, Middle East Director.

What attracted you to your current position?

God gave me a heart for the people of Northern Iraq.

Where do you live and who do you live with?

I live in Northern Iraq with my wife and 3 boys.

If you could give your 18-year old self one piece of advice what would it be?

Practice being a little more patient while proactively waiting upon the Lord.

List three unique experiences in your life.

1. Born in London, U.K.

2. I was raised by incredible parents. My father was a decorated Air Force fighter pilot.

3. Baylor University and my involvement with Antioch Community Church during my years in Waco, Texas totally changed my life.

What hobbies do you enjoy?

Reading, wrestling with my boys, playing tennis, soccer, hiking, photography, playing app games, and windsurfing.

Describe yourself in three words.

Precisely Going Forward.

One thing you always have on your person is...?

My wedding ring.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Right here is pretty good for me!

 

Follow Billy on Twitter at: @ResQIraq.

Read Billy's blog at: www.Rescue-Iraq.com.

"Meet the Team" is a weekly blog series showcasing the people who make up the World Orphans team. Every Thursday morning, grab a cup of coffee and meet another team member who is using their unique talents and gifts to care for orphans and strengthen churches in the U.S. and abroad.

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Graduation in Iraq

By Billy Ray | Middle East Regional Director

Last week, we graduated our first class of English students at The Refuge. Twenty women took part in a three month conversational English class led by two of our wonderful native-American speakers, Jessica and Darah.

In the future, we hope to expand our repertoire of English classes to include vocational courses as well. This month we will be finishing the tile floor in the remaining 2,000 square feet of the first floor of the building. When completed it will add 3 classrooms, a library, a café, a welcome room, an office, and a set of bathrooms to the already completed 1,000 square foot conference room where we have our English courses now.God has continued to bless us with the funds we need each month step by faithful step.

Thanks so much for partnering with us and praying for this special work amongst the Kurdish people.

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World Orphans - Serve in Iraq this Summer!

“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

This verse, penned in Hebrew Scripture as early as 740 BC, speaks to God’s heart for the orphan and commands us as believers to take action on their behalf. The charge wasn’t given to government authorities, non-profits or celebrities….it was spoken to the CHURCH, to believers of the faith. These commands still ring true today as we see these statements repeated over and over in the Old and New Testaments. These commands are the heartbeat and foundation of a program we call Journey 117, a ministry of World Orphans that seeks to empower and equip believers to live out this calling in their own lives.

Now, in light of this truth, we are delighted to present an opportunity for believers to get on board with World Orphans this summer, an opportunity to incorporate all of these things into one trip...to seek justice and encourage the oppressed, to defend the orphan and care for widows, to learn to do right. We are organizing a Journey team to serve in Iraq, in the Kurdistan region, to assist our in-country staff who are working to care for orphans and widows. World Orphans is building a community center called “The Refuge” that will be used to host events for people in this region, most of whom are displaced, having migrated north to escape the war-torn regions in other areas of Iraq. “The Refuge” is being built in the center of the Freedom Martyrs’ Village, a housing area established by the Kurdistan Regional Government to provide a safe haven for widows and orphans who lost their families in the war. Since adoption is prohibited and “outsiders” are not allowed to care for orphans, this facility will provide opportunity for our staff and teams to serve a desperate, hurting community with grace and love.

Would you consider joining our Journey 117 team this summer to help serve orphans and widows in Iraq? Our team will use “The Refuge” community center to relationally engage children in the community through VBS-style activities, sports and recreational games, arts and crafts, and music and drama, to name a few. We are praying that God brings a variety of people to join this team, those with unique gifts and abilities, to help us provide a well-rounded outreach program. The team will also visit nearby orphanages to gain a better understanding of the realities for the fatherless in this country.

We are excited about what God is doing in the hearts and lives of people in Iraq and how He is equipping World Orphans to serve these people in their distress! What a beautiful picture of His love and grace. We invite you to join us as we extend His love and grace to the people in the Freedom Martyrs’ Village and serve "the least of these."

If you would like to apply for this team or wish to contact us with questions, please visit www.journey117.org.

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Reaching out to Earthquake Refugees

In the early afternoon of October 23, 2011, a severe earthquake struck Eastern Turkey turning buildings to piles of rubble within seconds and leaving, some estimate, up to 60,000 Kurds instantly homeless, not to mention over 600 dead. Aid agencies along with the Turkish government tried to alleviate the pain and suffering by offering tents and supplies, but as the winter snows began to pile up around them, many decided to leave their homelands and go south. Some actually migrated all the way down into Iraq, to the warmer desert plains south of Erbil.

Learning about these new refugee families, a few of us decided to gather up some things to share with them. One of our American friends shared the plight of these Kurds from Van, with his Kurdish neighbors, and they ended up with an entire pick-up truck load of food, blankets, clothes, and other supplies.

 Together we headed south to their ‘encampment’ – temporary housing supplied by the Kurdish government.

Because they were Turkish speaking Kurds, we were able to easily converse with them and find out their needs and hear their stories. Dawn was able to empathize with them, in particular, and pray for them having lived through the great Istanbul earthquake of ’99.

The families intend on returning to Van in the late spring, but this was our chance to reach out and share God’s love with those with whom we wouldn’t otherwise have crossed paths.

Pray for these refugees that have lost nearly everything they own and thousands others like them that are eeking out an existence in tents in the cold winter still in Eastern Turkey.

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Slowly but Surely

Progress continues on The Refuge, the community center being built in Northern Iraq. Here are a couple pics of our small conference room/woman's center taking shape.

Putting in electrical sockets for the conference room

Putting in electrical sockets and lights.

Conference Room with sub ceiling installed

Funds, however, will only allow us to finish this room at present.

If you'd like to contribute to the finishing of our community center project, do not delay.

Here's a quick breakdown of the costs:

$3,500 per room (6 rooms remaining on the ground floor) $7,500 for the kitchen (including appliances) $4,000 -- outside wall plastering plus window sills and windows $3,500 -- full length hallway/entryway (tiling and plastering) $5,000 -- Waiting Room/Guest Room $7,000 per Restroom -- (2 main Restrooms) $25,000 - $30,000 (Grand Hall)

Call World Orphans at  1-888-ORPHANS if you'd like to make a donation.

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Tragedy in the Village, Part 2

As we headed out of the village, the image of the old man's face with tears in his eyes kept coming back to me. I've seen few men older than him. The lines on his face seem to tell of hardships that I could never understand or comprehend. And now, he was moving again. How many times has he fled Iran's shelling or Saddam's troops, or Turkey's warplanes? The vacated village is just one of seven that have recently become uninhabitable in our region. How many more will follow?

Keeping our eyes peeled on the road ahead we came across a couple men that told us they were part of the larger family that recently lost the woman with 5 children. We followed them another few kilometers, then cut off sharply into a canyon with a stream running besides a half a dozen tents.

Parking the car I looked up to see the man that had lost his wife just 10 days prior. I got out and shook his hand as warmly as I could.

He ushered me over to a large tent where we learned first-hand what had happened that night.

Here's more of that story:

Saying 'Goodbye' - at least for now.

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Iraq project seeks to help country-less Kurds

By Billy Ray | Regional Director Iraq

This link will take you into a world that few have trodden. It is the world of the largest people group on the planet without a country of their own. Click here or see below to discover a beautiful portrayal of the daily lives of Kurdish people today in Iraqi-Kurdistan.

"In the late 1970s, Saddam Hussein's army carried out a genocidal campaign against Iraq's Kurds, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions.

Today, in the northern region of the country known as Iraqi Kurdistan, a federally-recognized parliamentary democracy has since taken hold. The violence has stopped, and the Kurdish people have been able to set roots down again in secure, stable lives.

In 2005, photojournalist Ed Kashi spent seven weeks in the region on assignment for National Geographic making thousands of photographs of daily life across many segments of the population. Edited together in a rapid, filmic succession, the images create a collage-like portrait of a peaceful region that is full of promise, even as it sits so near an ongoing war."

-From Media Storm

 

To read Billy Ray’s blog click here.

To read more about the Soran, Iraq project or get involved click here.

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Iraq project progresses, U.S. Army officers step in to help

By Billy Ray, Regional Director Iraq

Yesterday, we pulled into Soran and meandered through the city to our 'new' temporary home.

As I stepped into the courtyard of the house a great relief flooded my soul. It's been nearly a year and a half since we began work in Soran, and this was the first time that I would be able to do it, knowing that at the end of the day, a grueling 2 hour journey was not awaiting me.

We unloaded our stuff, then headed off to meet with the Mayor.

An American couple has recently joined our 'team' and had yet to meet with the Mayor, so we swung by to pay him a visit.

After introductions we talked about the recent bombings of villages along the border by Iran, the progress of our project, a recent donation opportunity by the US Army base in town, and the possibility of bringing the Mayor to the United States to meet the Mayor of Castle Rock, Colorado where the headquarters of World Orphans is located.

Later, I phoned the local US Army commander and asked if we could stop by the base.

About a month and a half ago, I met the commander and a few of his crew while leaving the Mayor's office. He used to be stationed in Egypt where he and his family had worked with orphans on a regular basis, so he was quite interested in our work.

One day, in a break from their busy schedule we arranged for them to see our community center in development. Soon after that, the commander approached me and said that they would like to help us with some our needs.

Yesterday, he told me that they had some extra furniture that they would like to donate to us, including several bunk beds that we hope to use for our new guest house, some kitchen appliances, and even a full size generator. One that would normally cost us over $15,000 if we had to buy it ourselves.

The mayor already agreed to offer a truck and a crane to haul the generator to our project site. Praise the Lord!!!

Things really do seem to be taking shape here.

After the meeting, we went and signed a contract on a house for the new American family that is joining us. It was a full days work, but this time the journey 'home' lasted just 3 delicate minutes, and so glad was I.

To read Billy Ray's blog click here.

To read more about the Soran project or get involved click here.

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