Viewing entries tagged
Iraq

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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On Refugees: More than Escape

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On Refugees: More than Escape

Nothing seemed to bring about more rage in her than finding him with a newspaper; she’d rush at him in fury and snatch it from his hands. She used to be so tenderhearted–one of warmest people he’d ever met. She had welcomed him into her home and instructed him in his early reading lessons, but had become a stone–convinced by her husband’s warning against his learning.

“He should know nothing but to obey,” he reprimanded the boy and his wife, “and to do as he is told to do.” Anything more than that would make him unfit for them, and there would be no keeping him; for learning would make him immediately unmanageable, rebellious–even dangerous. Plus, he would grow terribly unhappy–a nuisance with which no one needed to be bothered.

The very decided manner in which the man spoke convinced the boy that he could rely confidently on the results of his learning. Whatever was kept hidden in books was to be sought because it would make him unfit to keep–the outcome the man most dreaded and the boy most desired. He was shown the door, the gateway to freedom from beneath the man’s tyranny. However trying the challenge, he decided to learn to read and write. His very life depended on it.

On his errands, he’d sneak a book and take a piece of bread along with him. He’d finish quickly, just in time to exchange a lesson for bread from one of the street boys who could read. With chalk, he’d scratch letters onto brick walls and pavement and copy the words from a spelling book until they looked just right. 

It wasn’t long after he’d learned to read that the discontentment forecasted through his learning rushed over him. His bondage now had words, yet no remedy. He was tormented by the ache for freedom, yet all the more determined to have it one day.

At sixteen, he met two men who wanted to read and write, but like him, they weren’t permitted. He devoted himself to teaching them in secret. Friends got word of it, and in time, over forty people began to sneak weekly into their makeshift school, hoping with all their hearts to learn to read. The great light shed on their mental darkness was–to them–well worth a wretched beating should they be caught.

Decades later, this boy became one of the most prolific writers, orators, and intellectuals of his day, advising presidents and lecturing thousands both at home and as a diplomat. It was he who held the highest appointed public post in Washington. It was he who became the first African American citizen nominated for Vice Presidency. And it was he who was the most prominent abolitionist and civil rights advocate in American history.

His name was Frederick Douglass. And he was a runaway slave. 

Out of all his accomplishments and positions, he recalled the humble days teaching fellow slaves in a makeshift school as the sweetest engagement to which his whole life was blessed; for it was his greatest privilege to make them fit to forge difficult passes into free states, as the illiterate and unlearned were left vulnerable and more susceptible to capture and torture. Likewise, his own education was the means to his own freedom–and later, the freedom of 3 million enslaved people through his paramount role in Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

"Proceeding to tell him who I was, and what I was doing, he promptly, but kindly, stopped me, saying, ‘I know who you are, Mr. Douglass [...] Sit down. I am glad to see you.’ " -Douglass, on President Lincoln after their meeting

"Proceeding to tell him who I was, and what I was doing, he promptly, but kindly, stopped me, saying, ‘I know who you are, Mr. Douglass [...] Sit down. I am glad to see you.’ "
-Douglass, on President Lincoln after their meeting

Douglass understood that the unlearned mind was an injustice that begot injustice. “It’s easier to build strong children,” he noted, “than to repair broken men.”  And, indeed, he is evidence of this–that education can shift an impossible current, free people, and change an entire nation.

It makes me stop and think. With the millions of people displaced and enslaved today by war, are we–as a well-intentioned international community–so attuned to meeting immediate needs with measurable results that we are blind to what might come in the next century?

Are we blind to the obvious repercussions of millions of children growing up without so much as a primary and secondary education? Are we blind to the power of education in shifting an impossible current, freeing people, and changing the future of nations? Education during displacement is not a new concern, but it is certainly an increasingly relevant one, as the world faces mass exoduses of people in recent years unlike any other time in history.

At the end of 2015, the U.N’s refugee agency reported that the number of displaced people, asylum-seekers, and those uprooted within their own country totaled 65.3 million people globally–one out of every 113 people on earth, compared to 59.5 million people only one year prior. “It is the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed”–reaching its largest figure since World War II, roughly equal to the population of the United Kingdom.  (UNHCR

And in Iraq alone 4.7 million people out of the 10 million in need of humanitarian assistance are children–1 in 3 children–numbers that are rising quickly as the conflict there continues. From within the country, 3.3 million have been displaced, and virtually half of them are children (UNICEF). And children of war are the most vulnerable to abduction, enslavement, recruitment into fighting, and sexual violence.

Education has the power to fortify young refugees for their unforeseen future in the same way it did 19th Century American slaves as they forged dangerous passes to freedom. Regular engagement with committed teachers and peer relationships provided through schooling can be a lifesaving intervention for refugees right now, while also serving to guard their futures. Without a doubt, it is a personal catastrophe to forgo education during displacement, but millions–even hundreds–going without education creates a civil catastrophe and devastation that extends well past the current decade.

Of course, schools–specifically in Iraq–are not equipped to handle the ongoing influx of students because of the strain on their already limited resources. Schools and teachers are overextended. We have to give attention and commitment to the acute and assiduous work of educating children to strengthen the backbone of a country towards self-sustainment and needed change.  

Lastly, it’s worth considering who among the children uprooted by war are the next national leaders, thinkers, doctors, scientists, and great poets...the Frederick-Douglass-types. They need only a hand and means to learn and grow despite their current circumstances. Perhaps it is they who are most equipped to lead and influence us all, not in spite of their current circumstance, but because of it.

Please consider giving to The Refuge Initiative in their efforts on this front. They have built a school in Soran, Iraq to educate up to 600 IDP children from Mosul, Fallujah, and the Sinjar region in Iraq. 

 “Books, not bombs, are tangibly changing the course of Iraq.” 
-Tim Buxton, Iraq Country Director

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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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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.

3.12.15_Billy_1

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 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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The Start of Soccer Fields in Iraq

By Billy Ray | Regional Director Iraq

As the days lengthen drawing near to the middle of the year, the sun pops it's head above the horizon surprisingly early. At 4:15am we sprung out of bed, hitting the road with all the family. At 7:30 the bulldozer arrived at our project site in Soran. It was "moving dirt" day. Over the next few weeks, we'll be preparing a portion of our land for the start of our first soccer field for the local community.

Check out these pics:

Let the excavation begin
Boys watching the bulldozer in  action

There was literally tons of dirt that needed to be moved and spread around. In all it took almost 5 hours for the bulldozer, and another 2 hours for a grader. The boys loved every minute of it.

Boys throwing rocks
Bulldozer loading the truck with  dirt
Children watching the Bulldozer
Starting to look better
Getting close to the action
Nearly Done 1
View from atop the Community Center
Time for the Grader
Graded land ready as a soccer field

All in all, it took about 7 hours for us to prepare the land. In the next step, we'll be building a wall around the field, plant some grass, paint some lines, and put up some soccer goals.

Thanks for following this project with us and thanks for your prayers.

As you can imagine the kids in the neighborhood are more than excited!

You can read more from Billy at his blog, Rescue Iraq.

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