Most pressing is a situation the White House calls a "looming humanitarian catastrophe" unfolding on a mountaintop near the Iraqi city of Sinjar, home to the country's Yazidi religious minority, where some 50,000 Yazidi refugees are trapped with limited food and water. On Aug. 3, Sunni extremists known as Islamic State or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) seized the city as Sinjar's Yazidi population fled fearing massacre. Many Iraqis without transportation escaped to the nearby Sinjar Mountains, a barren heap of rock where daytime temperatures can top 120 degrees.
While the U.S. has begun airdropping water, food and other supplies to Yazidi refugees in the mountains, BGR representatives are focusing efforts on helping the reportedly 200,000 internally displaced Iraqi refugees who have fled ISIS militants' rapid advance. BGR is a primary ministry partner of IMB.
In June, ISIS took control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, ordering thousands of Iraqi Christians to leave, convert to Islam, or pay heavy taxes. Yazidi Kurds and other Iraqi minorities have been forced from Sinjar and surrounding villages under threat of death. Many of the refugees have fled to Duhok and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, or south to Baghdad.
"The news coming out of Iraq is even more heart-breaking than usual," Jeff Palmer, BGR's executive director, said. "We have been helping Iraqi families over the past few months but must now intensify our efforts due to this heightened conflict. We are grateful to have so many friends who care about people in need. Suffering Iraqis will have an opportunity to know God's love firsthand as our partners bring desperately needed relief."
Rallying for relief
Thursday, Aug. 7, more than 150 Yazidi immigrants rallied in front of the north lawn of the White House to plead for American involvement in the growing crisis. The protestors came from across the U.S., with at least one group driving more than 30 hours from Phoenix, Ariz. Holding signs and chanting slogans such as "Down with ISIS!" and "Save our kids!", the Yazidis' pain and sense of desperation was evident in the faces of protestors such as 27-year-old Nayyaf Abdo.
Abdo grew up in Sinjar and came to the U.S. in 2011 after serving as a translator with the U.S. Army. He traveled to Washington for the rally with a group of more than 50 Yazidis from Lincoln, Neb., and said his parents, six brothers, sister and grandmother are among those stranded in the Sinjar Mountains.
"I don't know if they are still alive or not," Abdo said. "The mountain is surrounded by ISIS, they cannot move anywhere."
He spoke to his sister by cell phone earlier that day, but acknowledged he is afraid she is trying to protect him from the truth about his family's situation.
"She's not going to tell me my brothers are dying. She's told me, 'We are okay' -- but I know they are not okay," he said.
Yazidis at the rally also showed support for Iraq's Christian community by chanting "Save Christians in Iraq." Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council and an ordained minister with the Evangelical Church Alliance, was among a handful of Christians in attendance to show of solidarity with the Yazidis.
"Anytime there is a human crisis on this scale good people cannot be silent," Schenck said. "To be silent is to be a conspirator with the tragedy. This is as much a religious issue as it is anything else. ... We want to move this administration to act immediately and swiftly along with humanitarian and religious organizations that have resources to assist, and we want to urge all of them to take action now. Thousands are dying by the day."
Schenck said he represents clergy from numerous Christian denominations in Washington, and suggested believers can also make an impact by contacting their congressman or the White House.
"Jesus said the second of the greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself. Christians and Yazidis have been neighbors for centuries in Iraq -- peaceful neighbors," Schenck said. "Let me 'bottom line' it for my Baptist friends: This is a wonderful way of being a witness for the Gospel and showing the love of God in Jesus Christ."
Pray for the crisis in Iraq, and specifically for the Iraqi Christian and Yazidi Kurdish refugees:
--Ask the Lord to awaken the world to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq and to provide pathways for Christians and others to respond.
--Ask God to miraculously protect the Yazidis and other Kurds who fled into the mountains; ask Him to provide a means of rescue and temporary homes for the refugees.
-- Pray that ISIS leaders and soldiers would experience the love of Jesus Christ and that their lives would be transformed.
-- Ask God to preserve and embolden the small remnant of believers in Mosul and Kurdistan, so that one day through their witness, every Iraqi might have the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Help respond to Iraq's refugee crisis by donating to the International Mission Board's general relief fund or by texting imbrelief to 80888, which will donate $10 to that fund.* To give through Baptist Global Response, visit gobrg.org or text bgr to 80888.
*Text to donate: $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Message and data rates may apply. Must have account holder permission to donate. Terms: igfn.org/t
Don Graham is an IMB senior writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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