Journey Back to Dignity: The Internally Displaced Peoples of Northern Iraq

by Vanessa Chandler on behalf of Light a Candle

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We are often afraid of the unknown.

Cultures.

Places.

Religions.

Some of our fear is justifiable. Our world is in turmoil. We watched the Arab Spring from afar, at first in hope that a corrupt regime would be overturned. But the abscess of war left a gap for jihadists to fill. Offensive and defensive mixed together like spilled ink on paper, becoming muddled and unclear. Sporadic terrorist attacks plague peaceful nations, and people seeking asylum have flooded those same nations by the thousands. Despite officials stressing that most refugees are peaceful and law-abiding, there has been a notable rise in violence and rape amongst areas sheltering young men.

Today we continue to see fleeting pictures of war-torn faces in the news, yet the people’s lives are still far away from us and all that we know. We do not understand their loss or their pain, and it is difficult to acknowledge. But the stories of the Internally Displaced Peoples were our stories long ago. Hundreds of years have passed since we were refugees like them—since we chose to leave the safety of our homeland with the simple hope of a new life; fled due to religious convictions, famine, regime changes; or like the Iraqi Yazidis, became displaced from war. Remember that the IDPs are just like you, just like me. Their stories are our stories.

Here follows one such story of a refugee family. It is the journey of seventy-two-year-old “Baba,” the appointed leader of a Yazidi family community from Sinjar within the ancient region of Nineveh, Iraq. Three years ago, owning much land and many ships to import and export food sources, Baba’s family was very wealthy. Together with his wife of many years, they had given life to and provided for eleven children: six sons and five daughters, not including his extended family.

Baba clearly recalls the words his relatives cried out the day that ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, crossed over the border of Syria to the west and summited the Sinjar Mountains—the only barrier left between the encroaching enemy and the Yazidis, his people. On the night of August 2, 2014, the city of Sinjar was left unprotected without warning wboth the Iraqi federal military forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew from the areaamidst ISIL’s onslaught. ISIL had become an unstoppable tempest, and not even the Iraqi’s passionate defense of their families and homes could stop that force.

“They are coming! The cars of ISIL are coming!” the people screamed when their desolation became evident. The Yazidis defended themselves as best they could, but ISIL had bigger and better weapons. Without time to pack belongings, Baba’s family, along with seven other families, piled into their vehicles and fled Sinjar. Come morning, ISIL had captured the entire Sinjar area and executed those who did not swear allegiance and convert to Islam, including Baba’s eighteen-year-old son. He died at the hands of Baba’s enemy, who committed what the UN Council now deems a genocide.

“My son, my son…” Baba remembers. “Whatever is bad in this world,” he states, “ISIL is doing. Killing, kidnapping, hurting innocent people.”

In a moment, the lives of over 250,000 Iraqis changed, never to be the same again. Their world was interrupted, their way of life left behind along with their wealth, livelihood, possessions, and precious memorabilia, such as family photos of weddings and celebrations. The wealthy became impoverished. Where Baba’s orchard once stood, trees were demolished amidst mortar; where his animals roamed, only dust and scattered bones remain. The wind blows hot on the land that has now become sterile. The Iraqi refugees have grieved the loss of sons and daughters, and because most now live unprotected in camps, they not only worry for their children’s safety each day, but that their daughters will be raped.

We in the West tend to put off ISIL’s continued campaign, believing that once they are overpowered, Iraqis will return to their lands and everything will be as it once was. Yet even if ISIL is overrun, it will take generations for orchards to grow, for the tormented, damaged land to be fertile, and for the people not only to rebuild a bustling Yazidi culture and village life once again, but also to heal from the trauma of war. Life cannot and will not ever go back to the way it was. This is humanity’s history. As Julius Caesar stated over two thousand years ago, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” Man’s legacy has been to believe he is superior to another in race or religion and to conquer those he deems less than.

Baba’s family escaped to Shikhan, another Kurdish region where his friend, a wealthy man of high rank in Yazidi society, took them in and provided for them that first night. Thereafter, they journeyed to a vacated and discarded building in the city of Erbil. Erbil was formerly known as the Dubai of Iraq—that is before ISIL. Located within the center of the independent northern Kurdish region of Iraq, called Kurdistan, the history of beautiful Erbil ranges as far back as 6,000 BC and possibly longer. Its famous historical Citadel, an ancient fortress on a mount, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But in the wake of 2014, all tourism, expansion, and construction stopped. Instead, it became the site of Iraq’s internally displaced peoples. Empty, unfinished, and abandoned skyscrapers are now the makeshift homes of many families like Baba’s who fled the jihadist invasion.

Iraq houses a unique dynamic of many religions within a predominantly Muslim society. ISIL’s goal is to build a caliphate of the entire Muslim world—an area ruled by a caliph, or steward, a religious successor to the prophet Muhammad—and to ethnically cleanse the land from Iraq’s oldest ethno-religious minority groups: the Kurds (Christian, Yazidi, Muslim), Arabs, and Turkmen (ancestors of the ancient nomadic Turkic people). Let us hope and pray that they can and will be stopped.

Today, while many live within refugee camps in the surrounding areas of Erbil, Baba and his family, along with others, find shelter within an abandoned building that was once used as a chicken coop. There are no barriers, and the community is woven tightly together from living in such proximity. Babies’ and toddlers’ cries echo throughout the high, empty, unfinished spaces above, and the air is not only filled with their ethnic dishes of simmering lamb and baked flatbread, but also burning trash. Men walk hand in hand as friends, and women squat to chat with each other. The eyes of most carry sadness, hopelessness. Some carry shame from the loss of their dignity, wealth, and status. But there is also something else in their eyes—the pride of their ancient heritage. Though they have nothing, the people remember that this was not always their life, and may not always be. They are brave and resourceful, making the best of their displacement through rudimentary decorations and furniture. Strangers and foreigners are welcomed in warmly and given water first before chai, a tea made with so much sugar that it tastes like syrup.

Baba and his family proclaim that they are happy and thankful, despite the horrendous losses they have suffered.

“I don’t need anything from you but to see your faces,” Baba says to the relief workers of Light a Candle Project, a branch of worship leader Sean Feucht’s ministry, Burn-24-7. The team of four-plus people live on the ground in Erbil and visit Baba and other families every week, providing sponsorship monies from supporters; psychosocial, women and group programs; instrument, art, and sports lessons; and finally, humanitarian aid. The team did not come to Iraq with their own agenda on how to save the Kurds, which is a common occurrence of Western organizations. Instead, they based their outreach on the people and community’s felt needs, and built from there.

Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan, whose ancient land we now know as the West Bank. The Samaritan was an outsider to the Jews, but when a priest did not stop to do a good work for the stranger who had been left half dead on the side of the road, the Samaritan took it upon himself. Jesus used an outsider to illustrate His message. Why? Perhaps it was to show that God recognizes all nations as His children. John the Baptist’s words illustrate this principal well, “And all people will see God’s salvation.” 1 Regardless of religious or racial background, he who takes in and comforts the least of these best displays the intention of Jesus’ parable.

Remember Ruth the Moabitess who became a refugee in Israel. Ruth was particularly vulnerable as a stranger in a foreign land—she was a poor, unprotected widow whose people, the Moabites, were considered “accursed” by the Israelites. Yet she found comfort in the arms of a foreigner who sheltered her as his own. This outsider was an ancestress of King David, the line that birthed Jesus. Her prominence in Jesus’s story displays a powerful message in our current times.

Family is of utmost importance to the Yazidis, and Baba has adopted the relief workers— Rebecca Burger, Kelsie Plante, Allan Boehm, and Lucinda Legal—into his family, reminding the women often that they are his “daughters.” How could one who has experienced so much sorrow still love so well? It is the nature of his people, and though the team lights a candle of hope for the Yazidis, the Yazidis give back just as much as they receive, if not more. As a result, twenty-five-year-old Kelsie, who has dedicated over a year of her life to Iraq and continues to do so, states, “I have fallen in love with the Kurdish people.”

Do not fear the unknown. Do not fear what the West calls them—the refugees—or assume that all refugees from Muslim regions of the world are violent rapists and terrorists. They are families—mothers, fathers, children. They are you, they are me, inhabiting the same home as all of us. Outside of politics, Trump-supporters or anti-Trump advocates, belief systems or religions, from within or without these United States, remember the stories of refugees in times past and those who are currently displaced, for we are all brothers and sisters on this earth.

// For more information, or to give to the “Light a Candle” project, a ministry of Burn 24-7, please go to www.lightacandleproject.org. //

Read this article on Light a Candle's blog, here.


Resources:

1. Information, personal experience, and individual interviews of refugees conducted by Light a Candle Project, a ministry of Burn 24-7.

2. “Map of Iraq,” Italian Expo, accessed April 20, 2017, http://www.italianexpo.it/img/Erbil_kurdistan_iraq.jpg.

3. “Sinjar Massacre,” Wikipedia, accessed April 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinjar_massacre.

4. “Sinjar Mountains,” The Globe and Mail, accessed April 20, 2017, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/article19998167.ece/BINARY/w940/WEB_Folio-Mt-Sinjar_940.png.

5. “Inside the Refugee Camps of Northern Iraq,” The Telegraph, accessed April 20, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11260461/Exclusive-Inside-the-refugeecamps-of-northern-Iraq.html.

6. “Iraq’s Yazidis Living in Fear on Mount Sinjar,” Aljazeera, accessed April 20, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/iraq-yazidis-living-fear-mount-sinjar-160726063155982.html.

7. “14 Photos of Erbil…,” Business Insider, accessed April 20, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/photosof-erbil-the-capital-of-kurdistan-2014-8.

8. “Germany Sees Rise in Crime…,” Financial Times, accessed April 25, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/b5a8867e-28ea-11e7-bc4b-5528796fe35c.


VANESSA J. CHANDLER

Vanessa is the Founder of Red Arrow Media. If she's not heartily working at the office, she can be found secretly stowed away in a closet reading a fictional story, researching historical facts in a library, or drinking thick, black coffee and eating pastries at a French cafe. She feels that writing is her life-blood, and after years of writing books and articles for others, she's finally able to pen her own work again. 

In Lieu of Valentine's Day, We Give You, "10 Things to Never, Ever Say to a Single Person"

By Rihanna Teixeira

A while ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “10 Things You Should Never, Ever, Ever Say to a Single Person” out of my own personal frustration about life as a single. To my surprise, it ended up being my second most viewed blog ever! I loved all the responses I got from other singles with the things that people have said to them. Sadly, I have heard most of them myself as well.

So ladies and gentlemen, here are 10 MORE things you should never, ever say to a single person:

 

1. “Your standards are too high.”

I honestly don't think I am asking for much. I just want a kind man with good morals who has just the right amount of facial hair, can cook, sing, give me compliments, and talk pop culture with me, all while decorating our new home that he built with his own strong hands that looks like it came out of a Pottery Barn catalog. It's not like I am asking for the world on a gold platter.

 

2. “You'll find someone when the time is right.” 

Do you know exactly when that will be? Because I have a hair appointment at four, and I’d really hate to reschedule.

 

3. “You just need to be more confident!”

I know, I know. I've read in like a thousand magazines that guys can smell insecurity from a mile away. That's why I wear Victoria Secret’s “Very Sexy.” Secrets cover insecurity.

 

4. “You're too confident!”

Dang it. Guess I'll switch to Bath and Body Works body spray. It screams: “I'm in high school, my mom drove me to school, and please don't notice my zits while I wait for my next order of Proactive to come in!"

 

5. “You're too intimidating.”

Really? Is it my high profile career? The prestigious university I attended? Oh, I know, it’s probably because I'm constantly being mistaken for Beyoncé. Okay. Fair enough.

 

6. “It will happen when you quit worrying about it and you least expect it.”

Okay, here's me pretending not to be expecting it...still not expecting it...Okay, guys, I swear that I am so over men and relationships that—oh, look! A guy I've never seen before! Dang it, he’s wearing a ring. Here’s hoping it’s a purity ring. Crap, I'm not supposed to be caring right now. I can't win!

 

7. “Just let Jesus be your boyfriend.” 

Jesus, like…Savior of the world Jesus? Or the Jesus whose Aunt Rosita keeps inviting me over for enchiladas? Either way I'm going to go with "NO" on that one.

 

8. “God called Paul to singleness, and it was a gift.” 

God also made Zechariah mute for over nine months. Unrelated question: Can I lay my hands on your mouth and pray for you?

 

9. “You know, [insert name] didn't get married until she was 50, and they are extremely happy.” 

Excuse me, I'm going to go eat my feelings now.

 

10. Have you tried Christian Mingle? 

Have you seen the couples on those commercials? They wear clothes from 1999 and the guys all have comb overs.

 

*BONUS:

11. “Guys just don't know what they're missing.”

This is true. I'll give you this one.

 

So guys, how’d I do? Here's to hoping that we end this epidemic targeted toward singles everywhere, but really, here's to hoping that I won't be part of your group for much longer. Because, you know, it always comes when you least expect it, and I'm not expecting anything. I'M NOT.


 

Rihanna Teixeira

Rihanna Teixeira is the Social Media Coordinator for Red Arrow Media in Redding, California. To read more of her writings, visit www.missrheyna.com

DIPLOMACY SERIES

Overcoming Pain

Inside The Hard Road project

by Vanessa J. Chandler (co-author of The Hard Road)

 

When I set out to write Michael Pruett’s survival story that resulted in his new dramatized biography, The Hard Road, [i] I struggled with a theological question that has plagued the human race for millennia: Why did God spare this one life and not the lives of so many others? What about all those stories that end without hope? Where was God then?

In some religious circles, pain is unavoidable, and suffering is what God uses to teach us about humility. Pain has also caused many to turn away from the Church, or worse, faith in God. We have only to reflect on the martyrs of the early and modern Christian church, territorial conquests and resulting slavery, or the attempted annihilation of the Jews to see that true horror stories exist, that injustice is a reality. As C.S. Lewis said brilliantly in The Problem of Pain, "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself." [ii]

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.
— C.S. Lewis

Recently while visiting New York, I happened to enter the subway for a long ride from Long Island to Manhattan. I could not help but people-watch considering the fascinating company that also rode the train that day. One particular person, though, caught my interest most, and after having encountered him, I found myself changed for better.

He was a traveling salesman, yet he didn’t have slicked back hair. Neither was he wearing a pressed suit. He was quite obviously homeless, and carried a duffle bag stuffed full of sandwiches and other delectable items that any audience might want. In his short sales speech, he caught my eye and I politely declined. When no one else seemed interested either, he smiled still. Then he said the words that have stayed with me since, “God is good—all the time!” I found myself passing him several dollar bills to affirm his words. I can still see him in my mind today.

How is it that a homeless person with a sane mind, yet also who is close to destitution, can sing the praises of a divine being he calls “God”? Perhaps he understands something that many of us do not. Perhaps he has come to a revelation of the Father’s goodness because he understands the love that birthed that goodness… For thousands of years, man has attempted to answer this question of “Why?” If God is good, then why do people suffer? With great minds having penned their theological and philosophical treatises on the matter without ever giving a truly satisfying answer, I would not dare to attempt it. What I would dare is to claim that in the midst of human suffering God is still good and that to live fully, one must embrace pain along with joy.

What I would dare is to claim that in the midst of human suffering God is still good and that to live fully, one must embrace pain along with joy.

As Solomon stated, “For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases suffering.” [iii] Plainly put, “He who has chosen to live a full life with God, has also chosen to know more pain.” The danger many of us face is that which destroys our ability to live fully: We feel the pain is too much to bear and thus open the door for the disengagement of our hearts. Anger and bitterness coincide with grief, and when not dealt with, they place a shield upon our hearts that thwarts the resting place of love. Ultimately, we do not know what else to do but sleep through the discourses of life, feeling a sense of satisfaction that is merely a layer over our untouched issues.

Our addictions reveal the root of pain hidden inside of us. It spurs us on to find anything in the natural that will act as a band-aid for our inner wounds. We end up settling for a life of “quiet desperation,” [iv] one that has canceled or forgotten our true desires. If, instead, we want to walk the narrow path of resistance that leads to life, we must first be willing to face our fear of pain.

God has given us the perfect example with His Son. His Son cried out to be saved from the cross, yet was fully surrendered to His Father even in His greatest pain. He endured the cross because He knew there would be joy on the other side of pain. [v] The only way in which we can deal with pain in a healthy manner is to do it with Him, the One who underwent more grief than we could ever understand. When we embrace His love, allowing Him to love us fully, all other forms of love pale in comparison. If we but believe in it, that everything in the universe exists to display it to us, we will catch glimpses of it and come to know Him. For “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” [vi] Without coming to know His love, our souls die.

Consider the title and first line of Charles Wesley’s classic hymn: “My God! I know, I feel thee mine.” [vii] His simple, yet profound words express more than a cognitive understanding of the Father’s love, but an intimate experience of it. Experiencing God’s love, whether through prayer, reading scripture, attending service or having a spiritual encounter, and allowing it to give us courage is what will enable us to face and conquer pain. Despite suffering in this world, God is on our side just as He was with His Son. When we are in pain, we should look to Him to witness His deliverance, not asking, “Why?” but “What are you doing, Father?” He will invite us to see Him, His light, goodness, and love even in the midst of despair. He will lead each of us to true, full, and fulfilling life, making us new along the way.

I chose to help Michael write his story not for those who feel they are content and happily plodding through life, but for those who have not yet tasted God’s goodness, those who cannot comprehend how He might be seen in their lives, those who have suffered and do not yet know His love. I write it for those who do not believe. We may never know Why this side of Heaven. Instead of questioning where He wasn’t, we must focus on where He was, what He has done.

For Michael, what He did do was reach down from Heaven to protect him, causing one event after another to keep him safe. What He did do was adjust things on earth so that Michael was taken care of miraculously, so that even the scars on his body feel as if they are no more. What He did do was restore his family to him. He is a walking miracle, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. What He did do was allow Michael to meet me, a writer who knew his story was worth telling…


sources

[i] Michael S. Pruett with Vanessa J. Chandler, The Hard Road, Red Arrow Media [Redding, CA].

[ii] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Touchstone [New York, New York, 30-31].

[iii] Ecclesiastes 1:18 (NKJV)

[iv] Walden, Henry David Thoreau

[v] Hebrews 12:2

[vi] I John 4:16 NIV.

[vii] “My God! I know, I Feel Thee Mine,” Poetry Foundation, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/180949, accessed March 24, 2014.


 
 

PURCHASE Michael Pruett's biography, The Hard Road. here.

WATCH The Hard Road trailers here

LEARN more about Michael and his story here.

 


 

VANESSA J. CHANDLER

Vanessa is the Founder of Red Arrow Media. If she's not heartily working at the office, she can be found secretly stowed away in a closet reading a fictional story, researching historical facts in a library, or drinking thick, black coffee and eating pastries at a French cafe. She feels that writing is her life-blood, and after years of writing books and articles for others, she's finally able to pen her own work again.