Dear Brother’s and Sister’s in Christ Shalom,
First and foremost we would like to apologise for the delay.
We have been praying and seeking the Lord on how he wishes us to continue to conduct the ministry.
We have been having a few logistical obstacles, however the Lord is good and has allowed us to overcome, always.
Here is a newsletter written by our brother Mark Van Niekerk from South Africa, explaining the work done in Iraq.
The names in the newsletter have been changed for the protection of our brothers and sisters in Kurdistan.
Voice in the wilderness
Iraq – August 2017
What was to be, once again, a time of fellowship and shared ministry with my friend Antony Simon in Iraq, ended with me traveling alone. The initial shock of his death had hardly begun to wear off when I left South Africa for Jerusalem, where I was to pick up 500 bibles to take with me. My last words with him had been on what would be his last evening. He called as he was prepared to fly from Istanbul to Erbil. Please buy another fifty kilograms of luggage, he had asked me. We need to take 1000 bibles with us on our visit. It will be expensive but it is still cheap. His heart forever caring about getting bibles into the hands of all who would accept one. Our twenty two years of ministry and close friendship had been cruelly cut short.
Even though my initial thoughts of traveling to Iraq were dashed, upon hearing the sad news on the 29th of May, the Lord graciously encouraged me to continue. It’s not as though you don’t know anyone, I sensed the Lord say. The previous year I’d accompanied Antony and had the contact numbers of those I needed to see. So a week later I was preparing. My e-visa had come and I was putting out a request for funds from friends on Facebook. I never take money for ministry, the Lord has blessed us abundantly in business, the money I needed was for the refugees and Kurds. By the time I left I’d collected 8K USD. That was added to by Voice in the Wilderness with money that had returned from Iraq in Antony’s bag.
On the 6th August I was at Ben Gurion checking in for Erbil via Istanbul. Why do you want to go to Iraq? I was being questioned by security. I want to get to the refugees who are suffering from the attacks by Daesh, I said. It was not a satisfactory answer and the questioning continued. Finally I was asked, why don’t go and find refugees in Africa or South America? It’s a lot safer. I’m sure Jonah would have preferred to go to other people other than Nineveh, I replied. But God sent him to Nineveh. And you know the story of what happened to him. I think it’s better I obey the Lord from the beginning and go where He is sending me. The message was understood and I was told to please be careful.
On my flight from Istanbul I was placed between two others without much room to move. I decided to go and sit next to someone with two spare seats. I greeted him, and opened my bible and began to read once I was comfortable. I’m also reading something esoteric he ventured. I’m am searching for God were his first words to me. I said I was reading the Bible and we introduced ourselves. Joe, after telling me his parents were Muslim, said he was an atheist. I’ve rejected their religion. This was, as Antony would say, a God ordained appointment. We were still talking hours later when we touched down in Erbil. His parting words were, no Muslim would ever do what you are doing. Not even for other Muslims, let alone Christians. I admire your decision to come and help those who are suffering so far from your home country. It had been a good start to the visit and the Lord was encouraging me.
I had four groups of people I was going to be seeing, ministering to and giving aid to. Those refugees from the Nineveh plains who would be invited to the Pastor’s meetings. Each evening would be a different group. The names of refugees numbers in the thousands, so orderly lists are necessary to keep a control of who receives aid. Antony had told me the year before that my life would not be the same after Iraq. He was correct. This time though I was going to be taken to a deeper place by the Lord. A place where He let me share in His compassion and and truly know His desire to comfort. It was extraordinary. As I looked down towards the faces, after praise and worship, I felt the desperateness of these people who had lost all. I was reminded of Yeshua as He looked at and addressed the people. “They were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” I was looking at the same scene and was being moved emotionally during these meetings that I was literally unable to minister without weeping. I was being laid bare before them, as spoke of the hope that was to be found only in Yeshua. One does not know how these mostly cultural Christians will react yet I trusted the Lord to touch their minds and hearts by His Spirit. Many came asking for prayer and others indicated they’d been moved by the message.
The second group I visited with the pastor It was a Muslim village which had felt some of the attacks of ISIS. Not to the extent of the Christian towns like Qaraqosh, nevertheless they knew the threats of their fellow Muslims. The door had been opened to us by the head of the village, surely God’s grace. We met in a large room with all the men sitting on the floor along perimeter. There were no women to be seen apart from the wife of the home where we met. We had come with provisions, but first we had the opportunity to share the gospel. The pastor interpreted for me as I discussed the difference between the God of the Bible and all other religions. Our God, I said was the only One who had made a way for us to enter heaven. He came down to earth in order to take us to where He would be. By contrast all other religions busy themselves with finding ways to get into heaven. All were by way of earning merit. We discussed God’s justice and His love. The meeting went exceptionally well and we were invited back. Next time you visit, come on a Friday, there will be three times as many men. The others are all out looking for work, we were told. This is something only the Lord can be doing. Dr Rabee says I will take one to turn to the Lord and the entire village will take on Christianity.
My visit go Qaraqosh was everything I expected. Villages on the way had been laid waste by ISIS, with Qaraqosh brutally attacked. Hardly a home was unaffected, all are either bombed, blown up of burnt. Such was the viciousness of the assault. Those who fled before the marauding army went by whatever means of transport was at their disposal. They fled in the direction of Erbil, but once they reached the Kurdistan border control they were told to abandon vehicles and continue on foot. The Kurds were taking no chances with the possibility of Daesh slipping through into their territory. Today tractors, trailers, trucks and cars can be seen abandoned in the fields adjacent to the border control.
As we drove through the city of Qaraqosh we stopped to speak to the few people who had begun trickling back. With Mosul under control it seems some are prepared to start repairing their destroyed homes. Once again the faces reflect the absolute hardship they have experienced and endured. Everyone has their own story. Each seemingly worse than the previous, as if it were possible. We offered hope and encouragement and prayed with those we met. That evening we were due to have a distribution of cleaning materials for some 770 families. First though we would meet with the NPU, a Christian militia who control the town. They themselves are connected to the religious hierarchy of the church. An argument ensued with one of the “generals” regarding the distribution. Once again there is an order to these groupings, those who were to receive aid, were those who had returned to Qaraqosh and had had their names removed from any lists in Erbil. The “general” insisted that the distribution be made to the people on his list. This apparently contained names of 300 of this clansmen, also he had names of those who had yet to cut ties in Erbil. Bear in mind these are funds I have brought. Sadly the distribution was put off that evening, much to the disappointment of those who were to be recipients. We met with them and they purposed to march on the Nineveh Protection Unit to express their anger. We are talking about receiving a parcel worth about 12 USD. Such is the desperateness for aid. Dr. Rae dissuaded them and told them to do things orderly. They listened. Dr Rae has subsequently been visiting individual homes and giving them the gospel along with audio bibles. These cultural Christians barely know their faith but are caught up in religious tradition. In fact the lives of the villagers lie in the hands of evil men. My friend and interpreter Albert said he had gotten into an argument with one of the religious fraternity while reconnecting power lines. He was told that the these Catholics would trust and accept Muslims before us evangelicals. We heard the day we were there that Samaritan’s Purse had offered to fix 500 homes. The religious authorities had apparently asked for the money so they could repair the homes. With that the deal fell through. These priests would rather see their people suffer than receive aid from evangelicals.
My final meeting was to be with the Kurds of Soran. I had been in contact during the year with the two men I’d met the year before, Kyle and Keith. I had been asked by trusted believers in Erbil not to go to Soran when I said it was my intention to. They did not offer any reasons, other than there had been problems there, and they believed it was unwise and unsafe to go. The two men asked if they could meet with me in Erbil, if I was unable or unwilling to come to them. As it turned out the day they arrived I had been informed, due to a miscommunication, what I had hoped to do the following day had fallen through. As Kyle and Keith and I sat discussing the situation in Soran I sensed a peace about going the following day – if it were still possible to have a meeting with the believers. All had come out of Islam, in fact a few have yet to make a commitment to Messiah. I had asked about the warning not to go. I was shown a video of Antony speaking to a group in Soran. This had apparently found its way onto the internet, and some Mullahs had been informed of the evangelism taking place “under their eyes.” Word was that Antony was to be kidnapped and killed. My friends assured me they were part of the ones to be killed. They had left town for four months to allow for things to calm down and settle.
Once I had all this information, I said if it was not too late to arrange a meeting, I was willing to go the following day. I had a total peace about the decision. I informed my friend who had warned me not to travel to Soran. He was understandably not happy, and said that if I were to be killed they would not take any responsibility for my death. My wife was also unhappy with my decision. I had asked for prayer through the night, and had asked the Lord to stop the vehicle from picking me up the following day. I did not sleep well, not out of a fear of going, rather it was a concerned for ignoring a trusted friend. I got a message through the night from my wife saying she believed the Lord would care for me should it be my decision to go. The only word I heard from the Lord was from Acts.
“It has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 15:25-26
I personally did not feel it was a risk. What I did start fearing, was that given there was no outside spiritual or financial help to this group, my not going could be construed as a weakness in our belief. They were putting their lives on the line for this new faith in Jesus. How was it a mature believer was not willing to visit? I did not want to be a stumbling block to their faith. By morning I knew I had to go, and that the peace I had, meant the Lord was with me in my decision. On our way to Soran, a four hour round trip, we stopped in for tea in the mountains bordering Iran. There were only two other people there, and they were dressed in what appeared to be army uniform. Kyle greeted them and after a brief chat came to sit down with us. They were Iraqi/Iranian border officers. Where are you going they had asked Kyle? To have a Christian meeting, he informed them. Their reply was astounding. We know you have the truth.
Our meeting in Kyle’s home was attended by about twenty men and some wives and daughters also came. It was a very special time to teach about our faith, and even to try and put into perspective the ongoing Islamic/Israel conflict. I was interested to find that they did not seem to know their Tanakh well. They were confused by the patriarchal and prophets names. It was only then I realized the Bible had only recently been translated into their language, Sorani. So they had the Injil, the New, but not the Older Covenant. That is a project we need to follow through with. I believe it is God’s will we support this group, along with the others. One more meeting with more Kurds the following day, just prior to leaving Iraq, was the last meeting. Again, it was something I guess the early disciples experienced, a hunger to hear about this new faith they had embraced or were beginning to. A faith they had grown up to reject as corrupt.
In the final analyses I see God at work in Iraq. Maybe more so among the Muslims that the cultural Christians. I think Antony has started a work here prompted by the Lord Himself. The prophecies of Isaiah 19 would indicate God is going to redeem for Himself a people from what was formerly Assyrian territory. I believe it is a ministry that needs to be continued, and I am willing to continue this work on behalf, or for Voice in the Wilderness. The men in Iraq and Kurdistan agree, we cannot allow this work to fade. Antony has given it impetus, by way of the Lord’s Spirit, and we are to continue serving these people, who are coming out of darkness into the marvellous light of the glory of God by way of His Son, Yeshua.