I woke up this morning to the news that the offensive to retake Mosul from the so-called Islamic State has officially begun. As I flicked through my Twitter feed and saw pictures and footage of Iraqi and Kurdish tanks inching their way towards Mosul, I couldn’t help but think of the estimated one million civilians now caught in the crossfire.
Each week, there seems to be a fresh reminder of the horrors of war and the innocent and defenseless children that so often suffer the most. Last week there was heart-wrenching footage broadcast of a girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, covered in debris, dust, and blood, crying for her parents after an airstrike in Aleppo. It’s hard to forget the photo that went viral of the drowned little Kurdish boy–face down in the sand–his short life tragically snuffed out while fleeing with his family from the violence that is engulfing Iraq and Syria right now.
We had an 8 am appointment this morning with the director of education here in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (where we live). We visited a run-down house with four or five small rooms, each crammed with more than 50 students–three to a desk. This is the local IDP school for children that have fled their homes in Anbar, Fallujah, Mosul, and other regions that have been under IS control.
As we visited with the headmaster, teachers, and students, an incredible sense of satisfaction and joy filled my heart. You see, it is for these children and the millions like them, children displaced by war and violence, that we are building a school. Children that don’t know when–or even if–they will be able to go back home, will now be given the opportunity to pursue a real education. No longer stranded here without hope, these children, along with more than 100 others in our micro-camps, will now be given a formal education and every reason to believe in a better, brighter future.
We are so grateful for those that have supported our work to build a school for refugee and IDP children. So many have given generously to get us to this point and we are quickly approaching a time when the school will be open and filled with the sound of children learning and playing.
I can’t wait to see the look on these kids’ faces as they arrive at their new school. I know I must keep this new reality of restored hope lodged firmly in my mind as Mosul is liberated. Why? Thousands more children will be displaced, children besieged for more than two years under the brutal Islamic State regime. Many of these children will have been indoctrinated with hate and violence, set free only to be thrust into the surrounding desert regions, where refugee camps and makeshift dwellings will be their new home.
We must do all we can to house these families with dignity: to feed them, clothe them, and treat both their physical and mental wounds. We will be tested once again by our response to yet another humanitarian crisis to befall the Middle East. But, I am convinced more than ever that providing education for these displaced children must not be an afterthought.
The hearts and minds of the future of Iraq are at play here. We must not forget that. I truly believe that God has given us an incredible opportunity to shape these kids’ lives with love instead of hate, hope instead of violence.
Would you believe with us that these new classrooms will become a place where dreams are born, and each child is valued, nurtured, and reminded of their creation in the image of God regardless of their race, religion, or ethnic background. We want the love of Jesus to be known by all who walk the halls.