As conflict in and around Mosul destroys homes and forces families to flee, Samaritan's Purse is diligently providing relief in Jesus' Name
Samaritan’s Purse continues to provide desperately needed relief to fleeing Iraqi families as the battle to liberate Mosul and nearby villages enters its second month. More than 50,000 people have been displaced in the wake of the military offensive, which began October 17. Hundreds of thousands of people may be forced to abandon their homes over the coming weeks.
Our national staff members, alongside an expanding disaster response team, are at work in multiple camps distributing food to thousands of displaced families. The relief includes a 30-day supply of flour, oil, chickpeas, salt, sugar, beans, and rice. We are also providing ready-to-eat food packages to families closer to the frontlines. These projects are ongoing and will last several months at least.
In addition, we are bringing various forms of relief, including food, to people returning to villages that are now clear of ISIS. Many homes have been reduced to rubble by the conflict, and those still standing are often booby trapped, riddled with bullet holes, and marred by tunnels dug by ISIS militants. We are prepared to help returnees over the long-term as they rebuild their communities, some of which are traditional Christian towns.
As winter approaches, the physical needs of these refugees will only increase. We have started distributing blankets, heavy-duty plastic sheeting, shoes, and more. Initiatives that address cooking kits (pots/utensils/plates), water and sanitation needs, medical needs, and other critical issues are also in process or being assessed.
“These Iraqis have lost everything at the hands of ISIS,” said Matthew Nowery, Iraq country director. “To be able to provide these refugees out of Mosul a bottle of cold water, or to put food in their tent that will last them for the rest of the month for their families, to be able to give them a blanket that will keep their kids and themselves warm on these nights, is a great privilege for our team.”
A Mother’s Story
The average household size in Iraq is six people. Most of the families in the camps where we work are large, and many are headed by widows. Sumaya* is a widowed mother of seven children. Her husband, a taxi driver, was killed by a roadside bomb in November 2013.
When ISIS quickly rolled into Mosul—then Iraq’s second largest city—in June 2014, Sumaya, like most city residents, was shocked.
“I got stuck. I didn’t know what to do. ISIS surrounded us,” she said. “I’ve been suffering since ISIS has been in my city. I couldn’t do anything to help my kids.”
The family stayed inside most of the time. Her oldest son, Salim*, dropped out of high school. Once he was stopped by ISIS for wearing jeans and playing English music in his car. They threatened to lash him, but did not. When her daughter went out once with mascara on, ISIS enforcers stopped the teen and prepared to whip her. Sumaya begged them for mercy, and they relented.
The past two years were “a prison,” she said. “It was difficult. Even if you think about it, you can’t imagine.”
Just a few weeks ago, the fight to liberate Mosul came to her home. The family hid under the stairs during three days of bombing. Finally, the coalition’s tanks rolled into her yard. Sumaya eventually walked with her children to safety behind the front lines. They spent the night in a military truck and were taken the next day to a camp for displaced persons.
When Samaritan’s Purse staff distributed food to her, the smiles on our team member’s faces made her own heart “smile and happy again,” she said. As we helped her move the heavy supply bags and gave her a ride to her tent, the comfort and kindness of our staff encouraged her. In subsequent conversation, this still grieving mother reminded us of her greatest concern.
“Keep focusing on the children,” she said. “They have suffered enough.”
They Will Remember
As Samaritan’s Purse mounts a growing response to the ongoing crisis in northern Iraq, our focus goes beyond just the physical.
“We believe this is a very unique opportunity in the Middle East right now to share the love of Jesus Christ,” Nowery said. “God has brought together a group of people in Iraq for this time to serve and to show the refugees from Mosul His love.”
A small group of staff chaplains, all Christian Iraqis displaced from Mosul two years ago, minister alongside the rest of our team. These men know what it’s like to have their lives disrupted by ISIS and can comfort those who’ve lost so much.
“We are already displaced. We know what the people are suffering,” said chaplain Janan Sabah. He defines his role with simple eloquence: “We bring Jesus to people.”
His message to refugees displaced over the past two years is equally straightforward: “We have a hope. God has a hope. God has a plan for us. So, He can do [the same] for you.”
Sabah continued: “Here in Iraq, we’ve suffered a lot. Each family has plenty of bad news. … The world has a lot of bad news, but in God there is joy and peace.”
Through everything we do in Iraq, Nowery wants to prayerfully encourage the suffering, the widows, the orphans, and the persecuted. It’s easy for people to be overcome by fear now, but perfect love drives out fear, he said—a reference to 1 John 4:18. The light will not go unnoticed.
“These children who’ve lived under ISIS for two-plus years now … are watching and alert to see who’s there to receive them,” Nowery said. “They are going to remember down the road who helped them when they really needed it. And we think as a team that has to be Jesus Christ. They have to be introduced to the Cross and that’s the privilege of Samaritan’s Purse.”
*Names changed to protect these individuals and their families.