Iraq: Update from the field

by Billy Ray

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Today in the news 3 Americans were kidnapped in Baghdad, and people’s assumptions of Iraq being a dangerous place are solidified once again. But, I want to share a different side of the story.

My family and I have been living in Northern Iraq since 2008 working for World Orphans. We’ve experienced the culture in ways that have transformed us, giving us hope in a peaceful future for this region. Of course, we’ve also seen things and heard things that seek to challenge that hope too.

When ISIS invaded Mosul, I was not 40 miles aways picking up our new teammates, Tim & Sarah Buxton at the airport. It wasn’t until we got home, driving two hours NE to Soran that we heard the news.Use3 2

As you can imagine our world’s changed that day starting us off on a different journey. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled into the more peaceful and safe Kurdish regions: Yazidis, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Shabaks of all different varieties suddenly left all behind as ISIS drove into Iraq.

Initially, we temporarily evacuated too, though Turkey had shut the border to all Iraqis. Can you imagine? Turkey was determined not to let any Iraqi refugees walk into their country.

Our first attempt to help the masses fleeing ISIS came as we approached the Mayor of our region and asked him about the most dire needs. He pointed out a group of 20 Shabak refugee families recently fled from Mosul that had no place to go.Use4

We weren’t quite sure what we could do, but knew that we had some undeveloped property at our community center. So, we told the mayor, “We’ll provide a place for them to go, they can stay on our property.” Then, feverishly working for the next 8 days, we prepared that land for our first refugee camp.

Feverish is the operative word and fairly described the next 18 months of our work with refugees till today. We have now built 5 fully functioning refugee villages, started a refugee school, distributed kerosene, clothes, food, in a continual flow into the hands of needy refugees. This isn’t what we originally came to do, but we’ve seen God use us again and again to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s been awesome to behold, and we count it such a privilege to just be here for such a time as this.Use2