Iraq (MNN) — The battle to drive ISIS out of Mosul, Iraq has waged for over a week now. Since the start of the offensive, around 5,000 people have fled the city. But one million are still trapped in Iraq’s second-largest city that has become a battleground. The people have lived under strict ISIS rule for the past two years.
Aid groups are worried there will be an even larger upcoming wave of refugees leaving the city, which could overwhelm humanitarian resources in the surrounding areas.
Christian Aid Mission works with ministry partners in the Kurdistan region near Mosul, waiting to give Mosul refugees food, clothing, and blankets.
Christian Aid’s Steve Van Valkenburg says this situation presents several questions about those leaving Mosul, “I think the question will be, how many will be able to flee Mosul, and will they be able to flee safely? Another issue will be whether, mixed in with those fleeing, will be potentially ISIS fighters trying to flee for safety…. There will be much more suspicion on the side of the Kurdish area to just take in people, because they’re not sure who’s all coming with those displaced people.”
Christian Aid had a minister in the Kurdistan area two years ago engaged in outreach when Mosul was first overrun by ISIS fighters. With this established presence, they feel confident with the kind of aid they can continue to provide in the region, especially with an influx of displaced people.
“We regularly send aid to that area to partners there who are reaching out with the Gospel and meeting physical needs and emotional needs. As the time gets closer now, we’ll be sending a lot more to assist the ministry there that we partner with. We know from the past they are very much needed to reach out with the love of Christ and to meet the needs of those fleeing.”
Despite questions about those leaving Mosul, Van Valkenburg says it doesn’t change the objective of Christian leaders — to extend Christ’s love to any and all who need it.
“I think the one advantage they have is they’re not concerned about who the people are, where they come from, why they stayed in Mosul, why they didn’t flee before. All they want to know is how can we help and how can we share the love of Christ with them?”
In the weeks and months ahead, as the battle for Mosul is expected to drag on, it will be interesting to see what kind of response Christian Aid’s ministry partners experience from Mosul refugees.
“When a person has lived over two years under ISIS control, will they be people who are more sold-out to Islam, or are they people who are totally fed-up and looking for anything they can possibly find that gives other answers to their questions? I believe probably some are going to become very atheistic and just be very hardened towards all religion and very bitter and angry because of what they saw in Mosul and what it was like living under ISIS.”
However, Van Valkenburg says, “Also, I believe that God is going to use that to open people’s hearts, and when they see the love of Christ, then they’re going to be very interested in hearing the Gospel and getting New Testaments. And I believe there will be also a group of people who are very interested in believing in Christ. So in the midst of all this tragedy, I believe there will be some who have open hearts to the Gospel.”
Really, it’s a unique opportunity for the Church in the nearby Kurdistan region. ISIS expelled most, if not all, of the Christians from Mosul over the last two years. Many of the people leaving Mosul now are not just physically displaced. They’re also spiritually displaced.
“There is something the Body of Christ can present that other agencies can’t present, because they can present aid, but also they can be meeting emotional needs, spiritual needs in a way that other agencies can’t — the UN can’t do that, typical NGOs can’t do that, governments can’t do that. But as Christians reach out, they can reach out with the love of Christ…. We know anybody living under ISIS for the last two-plus years is going to have a lot of questions and a lot of inner turmoil.”
Please pray for a lasting and revitalizing hope to sweep through those who escape Mosul — a hope that only comes from their Heavenly Father.
“We pray that God would use this time to give great hope,” says Van Valkenburg. “Right now, those people are going to flee, they’re hardened, they’re bitter, they really have no hope. But the only hope they’re ultimately going to receive is when they find hope in Jesus Christ — when they realize there is a God who cares for them, there is a God who loves them, and that He became a man, and actually came to earth and died on their behalf, was resurrected, and He can live inside them, He can give them eternal life. That’s the kind of hope they have. When they have hope, then they can survive all other kinds of turmoil.”