Loving refugees through trauma care

By November 28, 2016

Middle East (MNN) — The conflicts in Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Iraq are cutting their way through communities and families. The physical, large-scale damage is easily visible and horrifying to witness.

But even deeper is the trauma that carves its way through the hearts and minds of those who survive.

Ray and Denice serve as field officers and developers with Voice of the Martyrs, Canada in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Nigeria. Part of their ministry with refugees in the Middle East involves trauma intervention and care.

“The Yazidi people, they were from the western part of the northern Iraq region,” Ray explains. “Many from that people group had been terrorized by ISIS. One of the leaders we recently spoke to said one girl per day from that people group is committing suicide. So as we sit here thinking about our elections and our American situation, on the other side of the world one young woman a day (or even a young man) is committing suicide because of the atrocities that were brought to them by the ISIS group.”

A photo from the trauma care art therapy with refugees from the Middle East (Photo courtesy of Ray and Denice with Voice of the Martyrs, Canada)

A drawing from trauma care art therapy with refugees from the Middle East. (Photo courtesy of Ray and Denice with Voice of the Martyrs, Canada)

Refugees from the Middle East had family aspirations, career goals, and beloved traditions before they had to flee their homes. Now, some have seen loved ones killed and buildings devastated by bombs.

To try and foster emotional and spiritual healing for the millions of people in this state? It can seem impossible.

“One of our leaders spoke to me and said recently, ‘Ray, there is a sea of trauma out there. How are we supposed to respond to that?’ I had some time to reflect on that and one of the things I thought about is, when we look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is a sea of unsaved people. If we just looked at all this work as just insurmountable, how will we reach these people? Well, the answer is very simple: one person at a time.”

Denice shares that one aspect of the trauma intervention ministry is art therapy, and they have seen positive results.

“You will find that people can’t even verbally express all they’ve gone through. This is where the art therapy comes in. For those who can’t or don’t want to talk about it, they can draw pictures and it gives a story of what they’ve gone through or the hope they have for their own future.”

But the trauma care and art therapy isn’t just for Christians. Ray and Denice see it as a Gospel opportunity to reach those who don’t know Christ too.

“Recently, we were in northern Iraq at a ministry designated for trauma response — really for all groups, not only Christians, but Muslims [too]. For us, that was very exciting because it shows Christians are not only concerned about our little group of Christian people, but they’re also concerned about the trauma Muslims are experiencing,” says Ray.

A drawing from trauma care art therapy with refugees from the Middle East (Photo courtesy of Ray and Denice with Voice of the Martyrs, Canada)

A drawing from trauma care art therapy with refugees from the Middle East. (Photo courtesy of Ray and Denice with Voice of the Martyrs, Canada)

“Many of these Muslims are…questioning Islam and saying, ‘Why are these people (ISIS) killing us? We’re Muslims as well!’ So this is a tremendous opportunity for believers to really share the love of Jesus Christ and show them the compassion of Jesus — something other than what they’re experiencing from ISIS and other radical groups.”

Ultimately, they hope to encourage refugees to embrace something that is otherwise impossible outside of God’s power, but true healing cannot happen without it… forgiveness.

Denice shares, “Through this process of grieving or dealing with your trauma and going through the anger, there comes a point that, as believers, we want to bring people to the foot of the cross where they are willing to forgive.”

Ray and Denice both have prayer requests to pass along for refugees from the Middle East.

Ray shares, “One of the things I think and believe believers can do is pray for this people group, that as we as Christians respond to them, that they would experience the love of Christ, the compassion of Christ, the forgiveness for those who have killed and raped their family members, and that they would come to a real, saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

Denice also says, “We’ve heard, over a number of interactions, people would say, ‘Pray for peace. Pray that there would be peace in our land.’… And pray for the Iraqi churches that are able to reach out to their own communities, that God would give them wisdom to know how to go into the refugee camps and help those who are less fortunate.”


  • Mariela says:

    What a blessing to read about this ministry opportunity! I am praying that one day I’d also be able to do the same ministry wherever the Lord brings me.

  • When I moved west to work with Native Americans transitioning to the city I experienced a lot of secondary trauma through what I was exposed to. I found music was a great therapy.
    Years ago I saw a movie with Glenn Close who got people in a Japanese POW camp to use their own voices as instruments. The movie was Paradise Road. I think a harmonica would be a great resource. Personally it was playing the piano and use of Christian music that helped me (and led me to my husband of 35 years) I am not artistic but believe that would be of value to many. Keep up the good work!

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