Global Update Vol 4 - Iraq

No, they are back in and at night time they wreak havoc and terror on the people that would oppose them.

Global Update Vol 4 – Iraq

Welcome friends to God’s Church on the Move,” the podcast that takes you to the spiritual hotspots around the world where God is transforming lives and building his Kingdom. Today’s episode, it’s exciting! Ron is going to tell us all about the situation in Iraq. But before we jump into that I want to let you know what we are working on for a future podcast, something to look forward to. We are calling it Inside Missions” and it is a question and answer style podcast, all your questions answered by Ron and Charis. Learn more about Empower and the countries we work in, how missions have changed over the years, the link between transportation and spiritual growth and so much more. And don’t forget about our other podcast, Ron’s Adventures” where you can hear stories about the lighter side of international travel. But now back to God’s Church on the Move” with Ron and Charis Pearce.

Joy- Welcome to the studio, guys!

Ron- Thank you. Today we do Iraq?

Joy- Today we are going to do Iraq and I know that Charis, you have actually never been there right?

Charis- No, not yet.

Joy- So it’s all your dad today.

Ron- Well, it’s a very interesting story as to what’s going on there. And we know about the war between ISIS, and all the various armies and troops and countries and everything in that region of the Middle East but I think what we have to understand also, is the fact that what you are reading and hearing, and all the headlines that come out, come from a perspective of the politics around the world concerning the people that are fighting, what the outcome is going to be, what it is already and, therefore, you are getting a lot of different opinions, viewpoints and a lot of it honestly is not true. And when I say that you’ve got to stand back and you’ve got to look at the conditions there right now. So that is where we are going to jump into this story. So going in there, we have been working in Iraq for, I don’t know, Charis, it’s got to be six years?

Charis- Yeah, at least.

Ron- 2014 is when ISIS really came into the headlines and in June of 2014, I believe is the month, when they took Mosul and they really started to expand. The world got scared and there were the beheadings that we saw etcetera, on television and things like that. But when I went in there and saw for the first time, you might say what God was doing in that land, it left me with the feeling of both hopelessness on one hand as well as, this is incredible what the Lord was doing in the lives of these people who were so broken. And that is why we need to put some facts around the myths about the land. For instance, when I go in there I sat with the leadership that we’re working with in the country. These are national leaders, good friends. Charis and I both know these friends. And to sit there are hear the stories about what is going on, the first thing they came out with was this: the war isn’t over. Even though the fighting has stopped with ISIS, with armed troops and the guns have been put down you might say in that regard, the effects of the war are still continuing on and ISIS is still alive. I don’t think people understand this. They put their guns down but they were explaining to me, and as I went to the various locations this became crystal clear, it’s a lot like Vietnam during the Vietnam War when the Viet Kong couldn’t be discovered in South Vietnam because they hid in the daytime but they owned the night. And that is what is going on right now in many of the areas of Iraq and Syria and that sort of thing. They can’t discover who the ISIS soldiers are because they have blended in with the population doing things that are normal shall we say, in their culture. They shaved off their beards, no more armaments, they are not dressing as ISIS soldiers or anything like that. No, they are back in and at night time they wreak havoc and terror on the people that would oppose them. So, therefore, a lot of the refugees are not going back home to their towns and villages and cities. First of all, because the infrastructure has been totally destroyed because of the bombings and the fightings and what ISIS destroyed. So that is gone, their houses are gone, but there might be people living there that took their house or their neighbors next door; these people are living in terror that they are not going to befriend refugees that are coming back because ISIS will take it out on them. Or when they go back, these refugees are afraid about what is going to happen to them because of the Isis soldiers that are underground. And so I asked this one brother who was very knowledgeable about the situation, then I confirmed it with others to get the second opinion and third and fifth opinion, and it is this, they don’t expect this to be finished in the refugee camps for at least 10 to 15 years. In other words, these people have nowhere to go, they don’t want to go, many of them, they can’t go and, therefore, they are going to be stuck in these camps and then you are probably going to say, well what does a camp look like? Well, they are all shapes and sizes, they are scattered all over the landscape and most of them now have trailers. These are like work trailers that we would have here in North America that are very, very basic. They are lined up in rows and there is electricity going to them and water going to them and some sort of sewage system somehow, I don’t even know how that is done. And the people will live in these towns made of metal.

Or when they go back, these refugees are afraid about what is going to happen to them because of the Isis soldiers that are underground.

Joy- And this is in Iraq?

Ron- This is in Iraq in the areas where refugees ran to and in camps of 10,000, 20,000 people all living there together. Some of the camps have been shut down now and some of the people have been forced back, supposedly, to their homes. But many of them didn’t go so they are living in makeshift dwellings. They can’t get into a camp anymore and there are some derelict old buildings, like huge department stores that were totally abandoned, and these people are living like street people shall we say, in our terminology, in these places and it’s brutal! So this is a mixture of human need, as well as politics, as well as we are running out of money to take care of a lot of these people with aid, food, everything like this. So this is a mess.

Charis- And it can get cold there!

Ron- Yes! Oh yeah, it goes down subzero, there is snow.

Joy- See, I wouldn’t have thought that. I thought it was hot.

Ron- Well, it does get hot too. In the summertime, it gets very, very hot. This is at the edge of the mountains. Therefore the area I am going to be talking about most of all is in the Kurdish zone, Kirkuk and that area, Erbil. And so when we’re in Erbil and you’re looking out at mountains sort of around you. When you are flying in you are dropping into the area and it’s beautiful in the zone but at the same time you know very, very well that this place can get really cold in the wintertime. So these people don’t have much. They have a winter and they also have very, very few clothes. I went to see this one woman. She was a widow, she had two little boys and I walked into this, it was a hovel, barely a roof on it, some walls, somewhat of a dirt, concrete floor that had been all broken up.

Joy- So this wasn’t the camp, a refugee camp?

Ron- No, this was an individual dwelling and I walked in and she had a blanket up over the doorway to keep the cold out. Two little boys there and she had maybe two sets of clothes. That was it. She was very, very poor and our workers there are helping with people like this. She has nowhere to go, nowhere. Her husband was killed in the war. She is just living there on the edge of survival and we helped her out a little bit. They were taking food over to her and everything like that. But this can be multiplied 10,000 times.

Charis- Were a lot of husbands killed in the war?

Ron- Oh tons. Tons of husbands were killed and depends upon the situation whether they were Christians on the run or ISIS took them and made an example of them or they were fighting ISIS or they were fighting another faction or another group. Everything, walking on a landmine, you name it, it can happen.

Joy- Now I wouldn’t think there were a lot of Christians over there.

Ron- A lot of Christians left the whole area, like when ISIS started to move in I think half the Christians, I think I was told, in Baghdad left and they were going to other areas.

Joy- Missionaries?

Ron- No, nationals and they went to various other locations in the Middle East, Arabic-speaking as a whole so they would go to Cairo or Jordan or something like that so there was a big movement but a lot left because they thought ISIS was coming to their back door and so they just ran and that was the case up in the Kurdish zone. So you’ve got Yezidi up there, you’ve got Kurdish, you’ve got mixtures of other nationalities, you’ve got Muslims obviously, and that is the sort of thing that is going around there. Now that is the basic situation but we’ve got to move on from there as quick as I can to try and say well, what is the answer to this mess? And Empower’s point of view is this, as we repeat and repeat and repeat, is that we want people to know Jesus Christ as both Savior and the answer to their life. To give them hope. That comes by not only us preaching the Gospel, but showing the Gospel with love and compassion and everything like that. So we have set up these ministry centers and our national brothers on the ground, working with the local churches have got these centers, sometimes they are big houses, other times they are commercial buildings that have been abandoned that we move into to fix up and use it as a center where people can come in. The one place that I was really impressed with was this house. They took me there and they pulled up in front of it and it was a mansion. I mean this was a two-story, well built, made of stone, beautiful mansion, front yard, garages out to the side and everything like that, for parking cars. And I said, So how did you get this?” Oh, it was for rent.” And I said, Well, how much?” It was like $600 a month. I said, You’re kidding! $600 for all of this!” And he said, Yeah and this is our ministry center.” And I’m standing there watching all these Muslim ladies come in, full garb, and they are coming in with their little kids. This is a ministry center designed to help children that were traumatized during the war and there are so many of them. And they have seen so much, dads killed, moms killed, bloodshed absolutely everywhere. Horrors that would have taken an adult and sent them into almost fits of insanity. And these little kids lived in that all the time. Therefore, if you can imagine seeing the horrors of war and trying to grow up without an education. So they take these kids and give them three meals a day inside the house, this beautiful house. Not only that but it is like a Montessori school that has been put into a Christian sort of environment and everything like that, and it was well run. I talked to the lady, took her picture, can’t show it to anybody but I took her picture and she’s in charge of it, she’s probably in her early 30s. She’s brilliant. She set this thing up and runs it so well, inexpensively and all the staff she hired were Muslim background. And I said to her, Why did you do that?” And she said, Well, they both need the Lord and they are great to relate to the situation around here.” In this school, which is predominantly the Muslims coming that were expelled from their land and then you’ve got Yezidis and you’ve got Christians and she said the Muslim ladies make the best teachers. And I said, Well, this is a Christian school, this is a Christian ministry.” Oh,” she says, we won them to the Lord first. That is no problem.” I said, So they are all Christians?” Oh,” she said, yes. Do you see that lady in the kitchen there? She was the last holdout.” And she showed a picture of all the girls after they had accepted the Lord, in a staff meeting and she still had on her Muslim wardrobe. Then I saw her afterwards cooking in the kitchen and she said, About three months ago she took that off, she’s no longer there, she was the last holdout.” And I said, Are you sure that they are believers? Are you sure?” And she said, Oh yes, every day we have a staff meeting and one of them every day has to bring a devotional and I listen to their devotionals to know what they believe, if there is a shortcoming, if they make a mistake,” and she said, we are constantly discipling the teachers.” And these are young ladies who have left behind their religious background, now living for the Lord. You should see these young girls, some of them, and ladies take over in these classrooms. I remember sitting there, trying to take pictures and all of these little kids sitting there just glued to the two teachers in the room and all the Muslim mothers were sitting along the outside edge of the room. And they started to sing Jesus loves me this I know’ and all the mothers were chiming in and happy and smiles. I just looked at this and was thinking, this can’t be real!

And they started to sing Jesus loves me this I know’ and all the mothers were chiming in and happy and smiles. I just looked at this and was thinking, this can’t be real!

Joy- Because they know it’s a Christian school and they are still putting their kids in it.

Ron- Of course! Because they are seeing the change in their kids, they are hearing the message. They know the difference between their old world and the Christian world of walking into that building. And the teachers are growing in Christ and passing it along. I said, So how many of these kids can we do?” I think there were 60 in the school. And I said, How many can we do?” And they said, The neighborhood is filled, our waiting list is forever.” And she said there literally could be thousands if we could accommodate doing this. And the moms and dads are coming to the Lord. It’s a pathway, it takes them a while but I was more impressed with this than probably anything I’ve seen as far as how to break the wall down between two worlds; the Muslim world and the Christian world. And the way that it is done is to show love to kids because families all over the world love kids, and if you start to bless the little ones everybody listens and that includes the moms and dads that have been in a war situation. Therefore, this is a golden opportunity to share the love of Christ and show it and preach it and all these things. So that was the first one. You had a question there.

Joy- I’m just thinking, is there just one school right now or do you have more of these?

Ron- We’ve got four right now, two in Damascus, in Syria, one right there, and they just started a second school there, and there is another one up in Dahuk as well, so they are spreading out all over the place.

Joy- And do they have plans to continue this and make more?

Ron- Oh yes, we’ll be doing this for years.

Joy- And then really quickly, what is the persecution like if these women, these families do know the Lord? Is it severe in this country?

Ron- I heard stories. In this part of the world, it’s not that bad now. I’m sure there is persecution, I’m sure somebody will be listening to this and say, well I had a person that came back and they saw this persecution. Probably but it is not widespread and not so much so that it is the first thing they talk about when I started to interview everybody. It is something they can live with and they can handle. And I’m sure there is resistance from some hard liners but you cannot get into this area without understanding the fact that there are tensions everywhere. There is persecution of everyone all the time in all situations. And our food distribution operations, I went to the church where it is distributed from and we went there in the morning and they had to divide the groups into two. The Muslim ladies came at one time and the Christian ladies came at another time. And I said, Why?” And they said, It just helps out in keeping things more peaceful.” In other words, yeah, there is tensions, they live in different neighborhoods, they flock together differently and you just live with that. But they both need help and they both need encouragement and growing in the Lord. Many of the Christians in that area are very shallow Christians, they are Christians by name only. They are not into the experience that we would know as being born again, but they are Christian because that was their church affiliation. So we have the opportunity of taking them and giving them further understanding of what it means to walk with Jesus and many of them are growing very, very quickly. The night that will always stand out in my memory is when we went to a church after dark, I won’t tell you the name of the church or anything, just that it was a church that had a sanctuary, it had a Western sort of look in some ways, there were classrooms there all around. They took me into this classroom and it was filled with men sitting around a table, about 12 guys I think it was, and we walk in there and they all stand up shaking hands. One was a doctor, one was a dentist, one was a lawyer, one was an engineer, and there were another bunch of guys and I forgot what they did but I remember the first four. And they all had Bibles in front of them, black bibles. So the first question is, where did you come from? They were from a camp about 60 kilometers away, this was a refugee camp, and they came out, they were all born again now, they were all Muslim, and they came out and they’ve accepted Christ and here they are around this table and they are talking about the things of the Lord so openly. So I said, How old are you in the Lord?” The doctor says, I am a year,” and the engineer says, Six months,” and they were all chirping up as far as how old they were, all growing strong. And I said to the one doctor, he seemed to be the one that could articulate best what the situation was, and he says, We come out for Bible study, we come out twice a week, we take the bus in but we can’t take the bus back because we will miss it because of Bible study so we’ll sleep on the ground in an old park and we will get the bus in the morning.” And I said, So what are you hoping to learn here?” And he said, We are sort of like pastors in the camp,” and they all have their own churches in the camp shall we say, little pod meetings, house churches or in this case trailer churches. They will have that and the authorities in the camps, I don’t want to get into the internal politics of this but, they are very resistant to us taking Bibles into the camps for various reasons but the brothers there said, No, that’s no problem, we can get Bibles into the camps, we get them in.” And I said, So foreigners can’t but you can?” He said, Yeah, we have our ways,” and I didn’t even want to ask questions, I thought this is good, you just take whatever you want. So they are getting in, people are accepting the Lord in the camps and these little churches are popping up everywhere. These are the pastors we are sort of working with and people might criticize and say well, do they have degrees? No, they don’t. These are brothers that are growing in Christ, that are leaders in themselves, that are studying and being discipled and they are lay pastors operating there. So this one brother, again back to the doctor, and I said, What was it like when you left Islam and came to the Lord?” And he said, It was like walking out of darkness.” And he said, Ron, you don’t understand how dark it is.” He said we didn’t even know there was light out there, we lived in the world and then somebody came and talked to us about it, I won’t get into the whole long story, but somebody came and shared the Gospel with them and they started to get closer to the edge of the darkness. And he said one day, all of a sudden, he had to take a step, and they took a step out of the darkness into the light in faith putting our trust in Jesus Christ and all of a sudden he said, it was all light. We could understand everything, we could see it, we understood the past, we knew that this was the hope that we had been looking for within the other religion. And he said, we just started to walk and he said, When you are out of it you can see clearly, when you are in it you can’t even imagine there is light outside.” And I thought wow, this is something I had never heard so clearly put by a new believer who had just come out, who was articulate in explaining what was in his mind, his spirit, his soul when he left. This guy was good!

And they took a step out of the darkness into the light in faith putting our trust in Jesus Christ and all of a sudden he said, it was all light.

Joy- Wow, and you know, it sounds familiar from your stories in Ethiopia. We hear about men, Muslims, who talk about stepping into the light and it’s fantastic!

Ron- Yes, the terms are used all over because they are looking for light, it’s just a matter that we’ve never sort of been in that much darkness in that way and so the more and more I work with these folks the more and more I have a problem in criticizing them simply because they have been in the darkness and they were born into it, they lived into it, they are lost. For us to criticize them for being lost in this without ever hearing the message of hope and now once they accept it, oh man, the lights come on, the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God comes alive in them and they can see! But we better not be criticizing these people too much, we might not agree with them but they too are lost as we are lost over here but just in a different way.

Charis- And it’s no wonder that they are going back into these camps and sharing with so many, once you come out and you see how dark you were and the darkness you were in, you want to show other people.

Ron- Exactly! They have a burden for the lost of their own camps and their own backgrounds and friends. They have a huge burden that they are carrying for this and they are working hard. So that was that night and oh, next door was another group of young married couples so I walked in there and these were young couples from various backgrounds all sitting there studying the Bible, a few Yezidi, some Christians that were nominal Christians before, I knew there were a couple of Muslims sitting in the back corner and they were all studying the Word of God together as new believers. So that was that. Then we went for a ride the next day and we went over to a place called Dahuk and we had to go the northern route around Mosul because there was still some fighting and some issues there. So we went around there up to the north and we had a chance to meet with some of the girls, I’ve got to be careful because of security reasons, I’ve got to be careful with this one, we met with some of the girls who had been taken as brides of ISIS soldiers. We will refer to them as the ISIS girls. We have been working with them since 2014 or 2015 I believe.

Charis- I think 2015.

Ron 2015, and they started to escape, we started to help, support, and share the hope of the Lord with them, all of these things at that time. Well, now there are hundreds that have come out. They live in the camps, they live separately for security reasons and they are watched over. We are working right now at Empower with the friends that we have there with about two-thirds of all the girls that would be hundreds of them. We work with them, they take them out for ice cream, they take them to the malls, they have parties with them, they give them all sorts of opportunities to come back into normal society, sometimes giving them makeup because that in the Middle East is a big thing for a woman is to look really good with makeup and hair and everything like that so they help the girls to look that way. This is the part that hurt me. They were sitting around on couches and we were doing some interviews and just seeing them and one lady walked in and she is one of our workers, she is like their mother and they flocked to her. I have never seen about 30 girls just come around because they were looking for the love and comfort of a mother and these are girls probably about 13 to 19 years old. So she comes in and they flock to her, and out of one great joyful moment, then they brought these two girls forward and I got to meet them. One was about 17 years old, her sister was with her, she was holding on to her sweater at the back, just very timid standing behind sort of and she was 15. The 17-year-old was very brave, almost outspoken you might say and she started to give her testimony. She had been bought and sold 20 times by 20 husbands and she said my sister was bought and sold 8 times. I won’t go into the details at this time on tape, in this recording, but what they went through was unbelievable.

Joy- And when you say bought and sold is that a literal like slave selling market for the soldiers?

Ron- A market, yes, and so the soldiers would trade, buy, sell.

Joy- And so they were taken from their families or given?

Ron- Yes, these two girls for instance, their mother and father are gone. They don’t know where they are, they are all by themselves in the world. In fact, they rediscovered each other in the camp and they both escaped, they both came back and they rediscovered each other. The trauma over the ordeal over the last 4 or 5 years was so great that many of the girls can’t remember the past and they can’t even remember their families. There is that much trauma, therefore, these girls were there. This one girl, she was so brave, the 17-year-old, and I guess what they did was that she knew a lot of the soldiers and many times at the end of the fighting the soldiers would shave their beards and try to pass off as being just regular people, not soldiers. So they lined up all these guys that they thought were ISIS soldiers and they took her and she stood there with the police and she says he’s one, he’s one, he’s one, identifying all the soldiers and they were weeded out and taken away. And so I said, What is going to happen to this young lady?” And he says, Well, they are going to have to take her somewhere else to live because of the tensions in the land they will probably try retribution and, therefore, she is a brave kid.” That was what I saw, but the success story is these girls are being loved and they are hearing about Jesus. You could see that they were growing in the Lord but it is a long trail out of this but we are going to be there with them, taking them, helping them, there will be mothers around, there will be people helping them make the transition back to normal life, whatever normal is. And I don’t even know to be honest with you, I can’t even imagine but we are going to be there with them. After that we saw some teenagers in another camp who were all there together and they were playing ping pong, they were trying to do some studying, they were trying to have a normal life, all came out of traumatic experiences, all in one camp. The parents, I think are all gone from what I understood. I don’t know where the parents are, they have teenagers there though. These are the sort of things that we are doing in that area right now. They are finding bridges, they are finding ways, they are finding the people in the camps and the various ways through the churches to help out. So is it successful? Yes! Hugely successful in the middle of the biggest mess that I could ever imagine.

The trauma over the ordeal over the last 4 or 5 years was so great that many of the girls can’t remember the past and they can’t even remember their families.

Joy- So the camps are very full, would there be hundreds, thousands?

Ron- In each camp? Thousands! We’re talking thousands and thousands and thousands in each camp. From what we can tell, and they are all over the place so there are probably exceptions to every rule, I’m going to say but overall, they’re full and they’re coming in and closing some camps down.

Joy- Like removing people out of them.

Ron- Closing them down and telling them to go back, go home, do whatever you want, because many times these agencies that are helping to run them, helping to run them, foreign NGO’s and various operations, United Nations and that sort of thing, they are running out of food and running out of money and running out of everything. They thought it was a time that would pass and these people would all go home but there is nothing to go home to. Therefore, I don’t know what is going to happen.

Joy- Are there other organizations like Empower that go into camps? Is this a common thing for Christian organizations to go into a camp?

Ron-There are some Christian organizations helping out in the area that we are partnering with and our people on the ground are helping with as well. So yes, there are Christian organizations but a lot of those organizations are not offering the Gospel with the help. They are Christian but they are on the ground being humanitarian.

Joy- And this is where Empower is always a little bit different.

Ron- Yeah, we stand apart in many regards, not that we are the only ones. But we do stand apart from a lot of operations that call themselves Christian because they won’t preach the Gospel, they will love people, they will help, they will do all those things but we want to make sure that people understand that Jesus Christ is the only person that can fix them and give them a hope and give them a future, and the Gospel and the whole emphasis of being born again. That is the central part of what we live for at Empower Ministries. And then what’s holding that whole thing up? The Bible, and that is at the front of everything we do. And it we’re not allowed into situations because of the authorities there that said you’re too Christian or whatever they call us, that’s fine, but we’re not going to lay that emphasis down, ever.

Joy- And I mean, there is always going to be people that can sneak the Bible in as you have found.

Ron- Oh yes, there are ways.

Joy- That’s incredible, I think being involved in a situation like this where Empower can tangibly help these ISIS girls, these refugees, is very, very exciting. Okay, guys that was another episode of God’s Church on the Move.” We look forward to connecting with you again! Thanks for listening, I’m Joy Kita.

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