The northern Iraq crisis has created a unique opportunity for followers of Christ to meet the physical and spiritual needs of a desperate people.
Iraqi security forces, assisted by U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Shiite militias, are advancing in their efforts to recapture the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, hometown of Saddam Hussein. Displaced residents are slowly returning to nearby towns that were overtaken by Islamic State last summer.
Photo by Joseph Rose/IMB
A 20-something soldier arrives back at his family's camp after helping to fight against Islamic State.
The latest Iraqi offensive against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) began in early March. A senior U.S. Central Command official said the long-term aim is to regain control of the northern city of Mosul, the country’s second largest city, before the beginning of Ramadan in mid-June. Removing ISIS from Tikrit could give the Iraqi forces a strong position in retaking control of northern Iraq.
Nate,* a longtime medical volunteer, recently returned from a trip to nine refugee camps in northern Iraq. He and his team treated a wide variety of ailments, from missing limbs to the common cold. Nate said most people simply needed comfort in the midst of a terrible situation.
“They just wanted some assurance that they were loved and that they were okay,” he said. “The medical part I love, but the spiritual part is truly the opportunity of a generation.”
One member of the team, Lester,* visited families in each camp to hear their stories and show them they had not been forgotten. At the end of each visit, he prayed with the families in Jesus’ name and many of them teared up at this simple gesture of kindness. Even his translator, a Muslim, said he felt the words of Lester’s prayer inexplicably resonating within his heart as he heard them.
Not only does this crisis provide new openings to share the gospel, but it also creates opportunities to train new and existing believers.
“They have no work to do, no job,” Lester said. “They have nothing pressing their time. They’re hungry to learn and to praise God.”
This opportunity is not solely for a volunteer team, but for followers of Christ worldwide as well, Nate says.
“They really need our prayers and they need our support,” he said. “They need to know that … God has not forgotten about them.”
Pray refugees will have a chance to learn about the hope there is in Christ and that those who believe will have the opportunity to be discipled.
Pray for more volunteers to go and work among refugees. Where doors are closed to many others, health care professionals have unique opportunities to care, share, make disciples and empower the church.
For more information on how you can help, email [email protected].
*Name changed for security reasons.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Andrews is a writer for the London Bureau of Baptist Press.)