Operation Welcome Home- Middle East

By Ron Pearce

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In June 2014, the city of Mosul, Iraq fell to the forces of ISIS. An estimated 500,000 Christians, Muslims (Shia primarily), and other religious groups ran across a desert from the second largest city of Iraq to hastily constructed refugee camps in the Kurdish-controlled city of Erbil. Over the past four years the city of Mosul was virtually destroyed by ISIS, or by government forces bombarding the city to regain control and thus displace ISIS soldiers.

Today it lays in virtual ruin, freed from ISIS control, and presently receiving back its inhabitants that were scattered and living in dire poverty as displaced persons. Empower, through its national partners on the ground in the region, has been assisting by supplying desperately needed compassionate assistance in many forms including scriptures, counseling from a Christian foundation, and evangelism and discipleship.

To all of our American friends who helped with this outreach, my deepest thanks. As you will see in a minute… we absolutely made a difference for Jesus and the Kingdom of God!

A New Opportunity

I was approached a couple of days ago by our partners in the Middle East regarding a new opportunity to help those returning to Mosul. The project that was presented to us for consideration is a Christian Ministry Center, similar to the one Empower helped to establish for the refugees in Erbil. This new center in Mosul would minister primarily to widows and orphans who have suffered through heartache, pain, and desperate need over the past four years in the refugee camps. In addition, other displaced persons with various stories of need will be ministered to at the Center during resettlement.

I had numerous questions about the situation on the ground in northern Iraq. These were presented to a trusted Christian leader in the area (who will be overseeing the project) and he provided me with the following clear answers that I share with you now.

In June 2014, the city of Mosul, Iraq fell to the forces of ISIS.

1. Ron: What is the current situation of the city of Mosul and immediate region? How is it governed and is it safe/​stable for the returning inhabitants, especially Christians?”

Answer: The city is currently governed by the central government of Iraq, represented by the Shia militia as well as some local Christian militia. The borders are consequently held by joint forces of Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia Militia. It is considered relatively safe for returning inhabitants, but considering the instability of the entire region, the city cannot be called stable by any means.

2. Ron: Is there law and order (police, etc.) to protect the workers and the attendees who visit the Ministry Center?”

Answer: Yes, there is protection, and a police force on duty within Christian villages.

3. Ron: Is there any part of ISIS left in Mosul to terrorize the people? I’m thinking of remnants left behind.”

Answer: There are no ISIS remnants whatsoever. They have all fled to Syria, and the borders are now heavily protected.

4. Ron: How many refugees have returned and how many possibly will be returning each year?”

Answer: So far, around 7,000 families have returned to the cities and villages surrounding the Nineveh plain. A total of 5,226 families have returned to the city of Karakosh alone. The government has future plans to arrange for the return of all the Christians who are natives of the city. The plan started in September 2017 and should be completed by September 2018.

5. Ron: Where will the refugees live? Conditions? Water? Bombed-out previous homes?”

Answer: The refugees will be returning back to their old homes — bombed-out and burnt-out houses included. The conditions are not pretty, with plenty of shortages and damage done to the cities. But still, the living conditions would be considered better than the refugee camps. And fortunately, there are plenty of organizations and foundations that are coordinating with the Assyrian Catholic Church, putting efforts into rebuilding and reconstructing the city.

<p>Refugee woman sitting in the street</p>
The conditions are not pretty, with plenty of shortages and damage done to the cities.

6. Ron: Why are they leaving the comforts’ of a refugee camp tent city to return to the devastation of a destroyed city? In other words, briefly, what is life like in the refugee camps?” 

Answer: First of all, the Kurdish government, alongside the Iraqi one, has been pressuring IDPs (internally displaced persons) to return to their cities for various reasons, by denying salaries and education, and other essentials, to Mosul natives outside of Mosul.

On the other hand, life at the refugee camps is far from comfortable. There are many difficulties the residents have to face during their stay. From lack of electricity, to water shortages, and even being too crowded for the camps. But that still is not their biggest problem!

The biggest difficulty they face at the camps is the lack of opportunity, self-development, and the feeling of being alive”. The refugee camps include many people with degrees, skills, and ambitions that they can’t put into use. They crave to feel part of a living, operating society and to stop living half frozen in time with nowhere to go and nothing to do. The bleak future they see in front of them is what hurts them the most.

7. Ron: Are there churches/​Christians in the area who can minister to the returning refugees?”

Answer: There is a plethora of churches in the area… traditional churches, that is… mostly Catholic and some Orthodox ones. Unfortunately, there is almost no evangelical Church presence in the area. But there are many who have been evangelized while displaced in Erbil and are now believers that are going back to the city.

Feelings of hopelessness must overwhelm the people when they see their homes that have been destroyed.

Empower’s Next Opportunity to Make a Difference in Iraq

The above answers provided me with the assurance I was looking for to proceed. Immediately, Empower will begin to rebuild, renovate, and equip a suitable building to house the Ministry Center. It will involve building materials, heating and cooling units, furniture and equipment, an electric generator, education supplies, and kitchen equipment. The total cost of the initial setup will be $25,000 USD.

The Center will then have to be supported. This will involve rent, utilities (electricity, water, and gas), support and maintenance staff, and salaries for trained Christian counselors and teachers. We will then supply the hundreds (if not thousands) of returning inhabitants with food and clothing as received from various sources, daily meals for children, Christian-based education, counseling and scriptures.

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