New opportunities arise despite Iraq crisis

By April 20, 2015
(Image courtesy U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image courtesy U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons)

Iraq (MNN) — Iraqi forces are desperately trying to keep ISIS from the gates of Ramadi, the provincial capital of the western Anbar province. The two sides clashed over efforts to secure Anbar, an ISIS stronghold. Recent reports show the Sunni Islamist militants have been making inroads near the city.

Between the threat of the brutality of ISIS and the risk of being caught in the crossfire, thousands of people fled Ramadi for safer areas, although “safety” is a relative term in ISIS territory.

World Mission CEO Greg Kelley says, “Refugee camps are literally being spawned off almost every single week.” Tents, food, and other aid are being sent to them. However, “the reality is that the NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) and the aid just can’t get into these areas fast enough. The game is always changing, as far as locations, what’s the greatest needā€¦so, it really is a challenging situation.”

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Chris DeBruyn)

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Chris DeBruyn)

Once in the relative safety of a camp, the refugees wonder what happens next. They listen to radios for information or just wait. Kelley shares examples of accounts they’ve heard that might circulate among the displaced. “We’ve heard stories of mass killingsā€¦thousands of people–particularly, the women and children being kidnapped and taken across the border into Syria.”

The unknown looms large. Already traumatized, despair is a common feature in the squalid camps. Kelley says, “That’s really where some of our partners have concentrated some of their relief efforts. It’s created an awesome opportunity for us to distribute our Treasures, which [are] our solar-powered audio Bibles.”

Kelley is quick to note that the Treasures are distributed along with the supplies needed for survival. But “if we just give them food and clothing and shelter, as a follower of Jesus, that’s just not enough. They need to hear that Jesus died for them, that Jesus loves them, and in this moment of need, in crisis in their life, their hearts are more receptive to that message.” The result? “We’re seeing more than 20 people gathering in a listening group, and it’s because of the consolidation of the refugees.”

Why would people gather to listen to an audio Bible where they could be overheard by people hostile to the Gospel? Surprisingly, this is where confusion might actually provide cover. “When you’re in survival mode and you’re just trying to figure out what you will eat for the day, it becomes a distraction. The strictness is lessened, and there seems to be more of receptivity to the Gospel in this kind of environment.”

Still, reading the Scriptures in silence would seem safer. However, Kelley points out that “in these areas of northern Iraq, well over 50% of the population [are] purely oral learners, which means they can’t read, or they prefer not to read. So they’ll gather around in groups of 20 to 25 people and listen to the Word of God in their own native tongue.”

(Image courtesy World Mission)

(Image courtesy World Mission)

The demand for the Treasure is growing. “We’d love to put 1,000 Treasures in there in the next 30 to 60 days. That’s going to impact more than 100,000 people. In most cases, they’re hearing the Gospel for the very first time.” $50 puts a Treasure into the hands of a refugee.

Giving helps the local Church become the hands and feet of Jesus in one of the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises. But this step is equally important: “We need to be praying for our friends who are in northern Iraq, especially those who are surrounded by ISIS and other factions. Be praying that they would be protected, that their hearts would be open to the Gospel message.” (Click here for the links to get connected with World Mission.)

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