On the Ground in Northern Iraq (video)

Please watch these short videos with first hand accounts of experiences in Northern Iraq and what Christians face in returning to areas destroyed by Daesh.

One woman’s story of living under Daesh:

What Christian face in returning to Qaraoqosh:

Christians helping Christians:

Celebrating, Rebuilding, Bringing Peace

Dear Friends of Stand With Iraqi Christians,

Early last week I was on a Skype call to Iraq with our partner, Hanna. He was calling to let me know that soon Haider al-Abadi, the Prime Minister of Iraq, would be holding an international press conference to congratulate the Iraqi military and its allies on liberating Mosul from Daesh after 9 months of brutal close-quarter fighting.

While this is good news, our conversation wasn’t celebratory.

That day he also sent me the video above, shot by some friends of his in Mosul. The scene of devastation can only be compared to Berlin, or Dresden after the carpet bombing at the end of WWII: Nothing left standing in a vast landscape of utter urban destruction, and the complete, stupefying absence of human life.

Our conversation also wasn’t just about mourning though, either.

It was about how, now that the worst fighting is over, SWIC and its partners can participate in the new, hopeful, but very fragile situation confronting the Christians who wish to remain in Iraq, including those who want to return to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

Incredibly, up to 100 Christian families have already returned to the devastation of Qaraqosh to try to rebuild their lives, communities, and churches, and are desperately in need of assistance for basic necessities. In August, SWIC will begin a project to dig wells in blighted neighborhoods where families are struggling to survive. This is only the beginning of taking action to support our friends and partners. With your help, we will continue to walk with those seeking a new life after the desolation of war.

This is a very delicate and crucial time in Iraq, and we have been in close contact with Father Faiz Jerjees, the Anglican Curate at St. George’s in Baghdad, and the Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis and Archdeacon Bill Schwartz of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, as well as the Episcopal Church in the U.S. regarding next steps.

The expulsion of Daesh’s military from Mosul is both a real and a symbolic victory for the region and its people. Yet the work of Iraqis, the international community, and organizations like SWIC to help build a diverse, peaceful and prosperous Iraq, including for its religious minorities, is just beginning.

In the coming days and weeks you will be receiving more information and regular updates from SWIC. We are organizing another mission trip in October. In the meantime, spread the word, awaken the hearts around you, and know we can make a difference together—to bring peace where there has been violence, life where there has been so much death—in the very place Christianity was born and took root.

[Image description: photograph of a red marbled plastic wristband on a table. The words "IRAQI CHRISTIANS" can be seen on the outside of the wristband.]

Banding Together

I never gave a great deal of thought to the idiom “banding together.” However, as I sit at my desk and look at a trio of reddish swirled plastic wristbands, I become more reflective.

These simple bands represent a great deal more. Of course, I turn to the Web to launch an inquiry. It turns out this is both literally and figuratively appropriate. The definitions for “banding together” include: to form a group to achieve a goal, unite, give voice, provide a welcome place, and support. Words to ponder in the shadow of evil like ISIS: group, goal, unite, voice, welcome, support. Two small crosses are etched in the plastic, as part of the bracelet design. This reminds me of our focus on Christ as the light in the world. Now the bracelets represent a world of good as I ponder them.

I started as Executive Director of Stand with Iraqi Christians (SWIC) on February 1. In that time I’ve met many wonderful people, each providing support to launch this newly minted non-profit organization in a way that can be scaled up. Our vision includes growing in relationship with persecuted Christians in Iraq. This means listening to their stories as we jointly investigate ways we can seek and serve Christ in all persons. Exciting, but also draining because of international regulations, U.S. laws, Iraqi policies, and language barriers.

But the Spirit is at work here. Each step of the way, there are little miracles. The right person shows up at just the right time. A solution surfaces when I may not have even been aware there is an issue, and comradery means when I am weary someone else steps in to take on a challenge. I often don’t even need to ask. Spontaneous generosity should be added in the lengthy definition for “banding together.”

[Image description: photograph of a red marbled plastic wristband on a table. The words "IRAQI CHRISTIANS" can be seen on the outside of the wristband.]My blessings include hearing the stories of those who support SWIC. Two separate times, two states apart, fixed income individuals donated $100 after one of Fr. Chris’ screenings of the film Where is our Place? Money is precious under those circumstances and yet they shared. The same was true when a child donated a $1 bill. It is not about the money (though of course donations are important)—it is about the act of giving. One amazing volunteer, Pat Beard from St. Thomas Whitemarsh (PA), took a couple hundred plastic wristbands and has been giving them out as a token of appreciation to anyone making any donation. In just a few short weeks she raised over $1,000! It is humbling to have so many give.

The story is not complete without mentioning that there is now a growing community of individuals who are banded together, with the plastic bands clearly visible on their wrists. Each band is a reminder to think beyond our own lives and communities, to connect with people in another part of the world who are sharing a deep faith that is not destroyed by ISIS violence. So now I sit and twirl one of the bracelets on my arm, and use it as a reminder to pray. The words that come to mind are from a song I heard recently, by Carrie Newcomer. She shares, “The shadows of this world will say, there’s no hope why try anyway? But every kindness large or slight, shifts the balance toward the light.” (“Lean in Toward the Light,” The Beautiful Not Yet, Airtime Studios, 2016)

Christ is the light. My ever-growing definition for banding together now includes the word kindness. Or as the bible says in a passage from Ephesians (Chapter 4) where I am reminded:

“…be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Where the money goes: Building Hope in Sulaymaniyah (video)

SWIC had designated $11,500 of the total $19,000 collection we had brought with us to building caravan housing for 8 Christian families living in tents in Sulaymaniyah, a city about a 150 kilometers south of Erbil. These families had fled Mosul more than a year before, and were living in conditions of extreme poverty, coping with the extremes of the searing heat of summer and the bitter cold of northern Iraq. Read their story here or watch the video below.

Watch our other videos on our YouTube channel (link opens in new tab/window).

Where the money goes: Ashur’s Copy Shop Business (video)

Through your generous donations, we are able to fund small businesses like Ashur’s copy shop.

Read about Ashur’s story here, or watch the video below.

Watch some of our other videos on our YouTube channel (link opens in new tab/window).