by Billy Ray, Middle East Regional Director

The Refuge_2When we arrived in Northern Iraq in the summer of 2008, we came with many questions. After meeting with a local pastor and sharing our hearts to care for orphaned children, he suggested we consider a different city, one we had never heard of before. As far as he knew, there were more Kurdish orphans in this region of the country than any other. Soran. Wall ChildrenA week later we headed to the mountain country, to a city of 125,000 Kurdish people located two hours away. Soran is nestled in the mountains at the far northeastern corner of Iraq, within 25 miles of Turkey and Iran. Traveling through a 10-mile gorge reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, we finally arrived in the valley 2,500 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountains on all sides. I could hardly fathom the splendor of the mountains and, until then, had no idea the beautiful land contained within the borders of Iraq.

Our interpreter had a contact in the city that arranged a meeting with the Administrative Head of the region. Anxious to meet with us, he said their greatest need was the development of a vocational training community center, and if we would be willing to build one, he would offer us a plot of land at the edge of the city.

Child LearningToday, we live in a neighborhood comprised of roughly 250 homes called the Freedom Martyrs’ Quarter. All the houses were built by the local government and given as gifts to those who lost relatives in the recent civil war. Strategically located amongst a high concentration of broken families, widows, and orphans, we are focused on building a community center, The Refuge, as a way to care for the entire community.

Our work is unique, given the nature of the local culture. We have worked tirelessly to form relationships, earn trust, and engage in people’s lives first. We started with English classes that were attended by more than 100 local women. Soon, we plan to add women’s exercise and sewing classes. This summer, we will develop more programs for kids and an English camp. The government has even asked us to employ English teachers to teach children over the summer. In the future, we plan to build a playground for the neighborhood children and a large garden. We are prayerfully considering future opportunities to serve the remote villages of the region.

Guitar for childrenAs part of our mission toward self-sustainability, we are finishing out our second story event hall. The 3,000 square foot hall will be rented out for private events, memorials, weddings, funerals, and other civic occasions. It accommodates 250-300 guests and will be equipped with an industrial kitchen. Last month, we hosted two weddings, despite the fact that the hall has yet to be finished. In addition, we plan to build an enclosed soccer facility that will be rented out and used for sports clinics and camps.

Our work in Kurdistan continues to expand. The more engaged we become in the life of the community, the more needs we can serve in the life of its people. In obedience to the Great Commission and Great Commandment, we seek to love God, love our neighbors, and make disciples.