Who We Serve Rebekah from Iraq
“Rebekah” and her family climbed into the small vehicle that VOM had given her two years earlier, after her husband was martyred for his Christian witness. Under the cover of darkness, they turned their backs on their home and began driving up the road to Kurdistan. Thousands of others had already fled along that same road, many walking for 10 to 14 hours to escape the horrors of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS).
Aftercapturing the city of Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014, the militants gave all Christians until July 19 to convert to Islam, pay a high tax, leave the city or be killed. Thousands chose to flee, leaving everything they owned behind.
Along the way, families encountered roadblock after roadblock of ISIS soldiers guarding their recently conquered territory. The soldiers robbed them of everything, taking wedding rings and ripping passports in half before the horrified owners’ eyes. In some cases, soldiers told people to strip, and then robbed them of even their clothing.
By God’s grace, Rebekah’s family safely made it to Erbil, which was already hosting 300,000 Syrian refugees who had fled the civil war in Syria. Families were camped in any available space ‐ parks, churchyards and half-constructed buildings.
After a couple of days, Rebekah was able to contact a VOM worker, “Mahfuz,” who was a close friend of her family (her children began to call him “Dad” after their father was killed). Mahfuz arranged for them to stay in the offices of a Christian ministry in the city.
More than 700,000 people fled to Kurdistan after ISIS captured Mosul. Many others fled to surrounding countries. The refugees included Muslims, Christians and others, but only Christians were issued the July 19 ultimatum of converting to Islam, paying an exorbitant “jizyah” tax, leaving the city or being killed.
One Christian from Mosul told a VOM worker that he had not heard of the July 19 deadline. When the night of the deadline came, he heard bombs exploding and soon realized that only Christian homes were being destroyed. He quickly gathered his wife and daughter, and they ran from their home. They were among the Christians who were robbed, stripped and humiliated at ISIS checkpoints.
Before the crisis in Mosul even began, VOM workers were aiding Syrian refugees in the region, putting them in position to help the estimated 100,000 displaced Iraqi Christians when they arrived. VOM partners with evangelical churches in Erbil have supported dozens of displaced Iraqi families with rent, food, blankets, mattresses, baby formula and fans, among other items.
As always, God provided hope during this massive crisis. One refugee told a VOM worker, “If Islam is like (ISIS), then I don’t want to be a Muslim.” That man and other former Muslims who have turned to Jesus are learning about their new Christian faith from a team of evangelists in the area.
As for the Christians who fled Mosul, those who put their hope in Christ are not defeated. One family told a VOM worker, “We have lost all our possessions, but we still have our faith in Jesus. No one can take that away from us.”