Iraqi refugees struggling after leaving homeland

By July 24, 2008

International (MNN) — As United States politics took center stage in Iraq this week, Christians are gearing up to reach out to the victims of war there.

Open Doors USA's
Al Janssen says thousands of Christians have left Iraq. "More than half of all the Christians have been displaced by the conflict. Certain Muslim extremist groups have taken opportunities to persecute Christians. Sometimes it's to grab their property or to kidnap them. So people have had to flee for their lives."

That's left many of them traumatized. So Open Doors is making a difference in the lives of traumatized Arabic Christians.

Many psychologists and psychiatrists say that trauma does not automatically go away in time; rather, trauma victims need careful handling through talking about their frustrations and feelings.

Janssen says, "One of the things we're trying to do is provide trauma counseling for these people — to bring in professionals who can help them deal with the emotional traumas that they've experienced."

But in the Arab culture, it is not common to talk about your feelings. It is a culture of honor and pride–the kind of culture where one does not shame his or her family by talking about deep emotions. This causes a dilemma for people who want to help. On one hand, the refugees are in great need of trauma counseling. However, they are not used to counseling as a form of treatment.

Open Doors is also providing training.

Most of the refugees who went to Arab churches in northern Iraq, Syria and Jordan were only able to receive minimal counseling from the leaders of these different churches. Though these leaders have a lot of experience, they are not trained in trauma counseling. They need extra training and support. As a result, in cooperation with local Christian leaders, Open Doors has set up a unique training program with foreign and Arab trainers to give the churches and Christian leaders the tools to handle the traumatic experiences that the refugees have faced.

Janssen says the goal is to help these victims forgive and begin healing. "The honor culture requires that you avenge the death of a family member. So, to offer forgiveness is actually a sign of weakness and a sign of shame."

However, he says this is following Christ's example. "This is what Christ calls us to do, because Christ has forgiven us much. We're told that we who have been given so much need to forgive others who have hurt us."

Some Arab Christians have problems with the concept of forgiveness after so many years of oppression by other religions. Biblical truth is taught from the pulpit, but "forgiving your enemy" is often not part of that teaching. Though Arab Christians know that the Bible instructs us to forgive, it is difficult to forgive a person who has hurt or killed one of their family members.

"There is nothing against anger and frustration, but you have to channel those emotions in a right way. Otherwise, it is possible that you will commit a sin, maybe a crime, and that is not God's way. So a person experiencing trauma needs to learn how to deal with that anger and feelings of revenge. Therefore we have organized these sessions," one of the trainers said.

Counseling Iraqi refugees with trauma is a long process and can take years, depending on the person. Open Doors has started the first sessions in trauma counseling, and hopefully many will follow. "It is unique what we are doing here. Challenging Arabs in areas of forgiveness, revenge, shame and honor is new in this world. But it is a blessing to be able do this," one of the Arab trainers said.

The participants are overwhelmed with the material and the information: "I am in need of this material when I am dealing with Iraqis suffering with trauma in my church. There are so many questions and unanswered problems, but we have made a big step forward now."

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with more millions facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry, and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to their Website at


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