Northern Iraqis 'just like us' & need help

Baptist Press
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Posted: Sep 12, 2014 5:22 PM
KURDISTAN (BP) -- The newlyweds collapsed into bed, exhausted from a day filled with wedding celebrations. It was their first night as man and wife.

They were jolted awake in the wee hours of the morning, when artillery shells exploded near their home. They scrambled from their bed and fled into the night, with no time to grab any of their belongings.

Now they huddle in a large room with more than 50 other refugees. Everyone shares one bathroom. Instead of a honeymoon retreat, the newlyweds are scraping to survive.

Abraham Shepherd, who directs work in the Middle East for Baptist Global Response, has visited dozens of families forcibly displaced from their homes in northern Iraq by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremists. He has opened his heart to listen as, one after another, they talk about their fear, frustration and desperation.

"In another place, we were in what looked like a dungeon. Four families, 16 people in total, living on a bare concrete floor. As hot as it was, they had no air conditioning," Shepherd said. "In another place, 60 people were cramped in one room, 50 feet by 15 feet. In another place, we met eight families who had been displaced for a month, and only one food basket had been delivered to them."

Resources from Global Hunger Relief (GHR) help bring comfort to these families and hundreds of others like them, as BGR and its partners deliver relief supplies in cities where Iraqi Christians and other minorities have taken refuge after being forcibly driven from their homes.

GHR funds provide crucial supplies -- water, food and infant formula -- that help these families survive. Southern Baptists across North America will replenish those funds when they observe World Hunger Sunday on Oct. 12.

Global Hunger Relief is a unique channel for helping hungry people because 100 percent of each donation goes directly to meeting the hunger need. Nothing has to be withheld for overhead expenses because Southern Baptists already have covered those costs by their contributions through the Cooperative Program.

The forcibly displaced families are not accustomed to needing help, Shepherd noted. Most of them had good lives in the city. They were business owners and professionals, teachers and nurses. One was a microbiologist. Another had supported his family for 32 years in the textile industry.

"They cry, 'We are not animals. We are humans who had our culture and civilized way of living,'" Shepherd said. "Now one of the men stands there in the undershirt he was wearing when he jumped out of bed and ran for his life. He has been wearing it for a month now. It's the only shirt he has."

Despite their desperate circumstances, these forcibly displaced families were eager to show hospitality to the visiting BGR relief workers -- and listen to a message about God's love for his hurting children.

"They were very welcoming," Shepherd said. "Hospitality still didn't die, even with their conditions that sentence them to slow death -- if we don't run to change that. We prayed with many. People talk to God more in times of trouble. They listen. They even asked if we can help them, not only here, but when they go back to their homes to rebuild their lives again.

"We were able to have access to places no one has reached -- and to people's lives -- in an amazing way. We believe the prayers of many made this possible."

When the evening news carries stories about the Middle East crisis, these displaced families want everyone to know there is more to the story than faceless statistics, Shepherd said.

"They want us to know they are just like us: father, mother, son, and daughter, grandparent, aunt and uncle," Shepherd said. "They are our fellow humans, created in God's likeness and image.

"They are waiting for us to help them in their time of need."

Mark Kelly writes for Global Hunger Relief. For resources to help promote World Hunger Sunday, visit www.globalhungerrelief.com. 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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