Ministry Trip Report: Iraq 2015

In the fall of 2014 I requested support for a ministry trip to Erbil in northern Iraq, which is in the region known as Kurdistan. This area is about an hour’s drive from Mosul where the Islamic State (ISIS) is waging a barbaric war against any group or population that does not convert to their radical brand of Islam. Many of those who have survived ISIS raids on their towns have fled to Kurdistan, often with nothing except the clothes they are wearing. Our team, led by best-selling author Joel Richardson, had several objectives, including networking with several local ministries, bringing encouragement to the local churches and to the refugees they are supporting, and to document on film what is taking place in this region. In doing so, we hope to raise awareness within the western churches so that they can partner in prayer and resources with missionaries living and serving in the Middle East.

I am extremely grateful to those who contributed financially and in prayer for this trip. I want to share just a few of the highlights of the trip in this article. Not everyone is able to make a trip of this sort, but we can all partner with those who do. Your heavenly Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly for giving of your time and resources to help spread the Word and the love of Jesus to these precious and hurting people.

 

After flying into the Erbil, Iraq international airport, we set up in a hotel for our first two days. This view, taken out of my room window, shows two refugee camps in the distance. The camp on the left, labeled Mall Camp, houses dozens of refugees from the Mosul area. This camp is housed inside a mall that was never completed and is run by a Catholic organization. The camp on the right, labeled Muslim Camp, contains mostly Muslim refugees from Mosul. It was about a 10-15 minute drive from the hotel to the Muslim camp.

The first floor of the mall interior, looking up at the second and third level. The refugees live in small cubicles that have been built from sheets of drywall. Much of the time is spent carrying washtubs of water from central sources to their small makeshift homes, where they wash their clothes and hang them out to dry on the perimeter fencing.

This Christian man invited us into his home to meet his family and to serve us tea. His wife has cancer and we were able to pray for her. The children were very well behaved and excited to meet us. The man used to own a factory on the outskirts of Mosul that manufactured animal feed. His factory was burned down by ISIS and the family fled with nothing. They were very grateful for our visit and showed no bitterness.

This is the second camp we visited, which is operated by an international relief agency and is populated by displaced Muslims. Gravel pathways are found throughout the camp and families live in small pods donated from Taiwan. Waste water flows freely along either side of these gravel roads. Cooking is done in mud ovens that the refugees build from the clay earth.

A young girl shovels gravel from the road next to her family’s pod. She will carry the bucket of gravel to the pod where it is used to make a mud-free ‘patio’ in front of the door. Imagine the average western youth being asked to perform this kind of work!

In this camp we were again invited into a pod by a Muslim man to have tea. The man recounted to us how he was just getting ready to flee Mosul in his car that was packed with his family and their belongings. ISIS stopped him and demanded to know if he was Sunni or Shia. (ISIS is Sunni and will kill any Shia Muslims they find.) The man lied and told them he was a Sunni. He had written “Sunni” on the side of his house. ISIS then demanded that he turn over to them either his car or his son. He gave them his car and walked away from his home on foot. Later a neighbor of his told him that after he fled, ISIS crossed out “Sunni” on his house and wrote “liar!”

After two days of ministry in Erbil, which included Joel Richardson teaching at a local church on Isaiah 19, we headed north for two hours to the mountain town of Soran. There, we connected with two missionary families who live and minister in this Kurdish town. As we left the Erbil region and got closer to Soran, the topography changed from rolling hills to steep snow-capped mountains and beautiful gorges.

This type of rugged beauty is common in the northern area of Iraq, know as Kurdistan. Some of the spectacular views rival those of the western United States.

Soran, Kurdistan seen from the roof of our host family. We were just 18 miles from the border of Iran in this location. Our host told us that all his activities are monitored by Iran.

This is a refugee camp know as The Center. It was built by our host and is operated by him. This is the main living area, where Shia Muslim refugees live in tents and pods. There is also a newly build two-story building with class rooms and other meeting rooms, as well as a fenced in football (soccer) field where the kids can play. One of the elders is seen at the entrance to the living area.

The children at The Center were all smiles and loved to play with us. They were particularly fascinated with having their photos taken and would crowd around anyone with a camera. We handed out candy and other treats for them.

We made several visits to this camp, located about a half an hour from The Center. This camp contains about 20 Yazidi familes who fled from ISIS. You may recall the news stories from 2014 about refugees trapped on Mt. Sinjar. These people are from that group. The Kurdish military, called the Peshmerga, liberated them from the mountain. The Yazidi religion is very dark and involves the worship of an idol called the Peacock Angel.

It must be said that without the preaching of the Gospel, missionary work is simply relief aid. While caring for the poor is an intrinsic part of being a Christian, giving relief is not the same thing as ministering the truth of the cross. When we began to share the Gospel of Jesus with the Yazidi men, two of the elders became visibly agitated and insisted that we stop. Our translator, seen in the middle of this photo, explains to the Yazidi men on the left that while it is our duty to present the invitation of salvation to them, true Christianity never forces or requires anyone to convert. This tense situation was ended peacefully as Joel Richardson (right in black shirt) addressed the men through the interpreter. Please pray for the Yazidis, as well as for our Kurdish interpreter who has been rejected by the local Soran Kurds because of his association with our Christian hosts. He is very close to accepting Christ himself.

This area of the world, known by missionaries as the 10-40 window, is the last geographic region to remain largely unevangelized. Most of the peoples here have never heard the Gospel of the good news of Jesus and salvation through His name. Will you become a prayer and resources partner for the Middle East? Joel Richardson and I are available (together or separately) to visit your church to share a multimedia presentation about our trip to Erbil and Soran, as well as to speak on end time topics of critical importance to the Church in this hour.

Every true Christian is called to be a part of bringing the Gospel to the nations. Sadly, many western churches are little more than Christian clubs with a focus on growing an organization rather than spreading the Gospel and making disciples. Let us shake off our complacency and get involved with what God is doing, both here and around the earth. The time is short; Come Lord Jesus!