Many of these families have gone for three weeks with little to eat, said Abraham*, who leads work in the Middle East for Baptist Global Response (BGR). He reports these persecuted Christians believe they are facing extinction and he worries that Christians in the West do not know of their suffering.
"We entered this one camp, and they said, 'So far we are just eating rice and some watery tomato soup. We have only had meat once. A guy came and he gave us some chicken. Just for a day,'" Abraham said.
"It touched my heart, to know we could provide some good healthy nutrition for these people," he added. "It brought joy to their hearts for us to bring beans and other food. Just to make them feel they are normal and loved."
Many of these families were urban professionals who ran businesses and owned homes. When violence reached their majority-Christian neighborhood, however, they had only minutes to flee. An estimated 60,000 people left in the space of a few hours, most with only the clothes on their backs.
Several families pooled their resources and managed to rent an apartment, Abraham said. Eight families shared two floors of an unfinished house.
"We entered this place, and it's totally empty. It's just a floor and concrete walls," he said. "To look at these children, to look in the eyes of a defeated father who cannot provide for his family, the least we could do was we bought carpet so it can be a little more comfortable for them than sleeping on the floor. Pillows. Blankets. Basic things."
Baptist Global Response has been providing relief to refugees and displaced families throughout the Middle East for years now, Abraham said. But the ISIS advance across northern Iraq has compounded one crisis with another.
"That makes it more tragic, in a sense, but at the same time it helps us because we already have work, we already have projects on the ground, to pool our efforts together, to pool our teams together," he said. "Now some of our national team members are forcibly displaced themselves, becoming victims of the crisis as well."
BGR is drawing on resources provided by Global Hunger Relief (GHR) to provide food, water, baby formula, propane burners and temporary shelter. They also have been helping families obtain cooling units to provide relief from scorching summer heat.
"The heat is suffocating. The temperature is in the hundreds and it's a dusty environment. So you can see a baby, 25 days old, they cannot endure this," Abraham said. "So we try to have a water cooling system to help them in their own tent."
Although their Christian community is one of the most ancient in the world, these families are wondering what will happen to them, Abraham said.
"I promised I would make their story known, that people would know these Christians exist, they are part of this land, they are an ancient people," he said. "To them this is the birthplace of Christianity. They fear they are at the point of extinction. They say, 'Don't forget all about us.'"
Crucial resources for the relief effort are coming from GHR, the Southern Baptist channel for giving to hunger needs across North America and around the world. Donations to GHR will be emphasized when many Southern Baptist churches observe World Hunger Sunday, Oct. 12.
"Global Hunger Relief helps us tremendously," Abraham said. "I encourage churches and whoever is listening to us to give to Global Hunger Relief because without it we will not be able to help a lot of these people. We need to advocate, we need to pray, but we also need to be generous.
"This kind of thing is not much sacrifice on our part. I hope we will stand as an advocate, as caring Southern Baptists, to meet the needs of these people, giving a cup of water in the name of Jesus. That's what it is all about."
For more information, go to www.globalhungerrelief.com.
*Full name withheld for security reasons. Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response. Watch for updates on Middle East crisis relief by following BGR's updates at www.facebook.com/gobgr or www.twitter.com/gobgr. 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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