May 2015 Kurdistan Mission Trip
Day 1 Traveling
We picked up Alberto in Jerusalem and went to Tonys place of ministry. We packed three suitcases full of audio Bibles, and then headed to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Security gave us a hard time. They wanted to know how we knew each other, where we were going, and who our contacts were. After about 30 minutes of answering questions, security finally let us Check-in.
We flew to Istanbul 2 hours and then on to Ankara one hour and then to Erbil two hours. We landed around 2:20 a.m. and were picked up at the airport by a man named Yusuf who helps us with transportation, translation and purchasing goods for distribution, a good servant of the Lord.
We began the day at 7:30 a.m. We went to a store across the street to buy supplies for breakfast and after breakfast we sorted the audio Bibles and then went to the Bible Society. We purchased some Bibles in Kurdish Sorani and some children’s Bibles and got some Arabic full bibles and New Testaments. Around 11 a.m. we caught a taxi to the other side of the city to see a local Kurdish pastor. He serves a local Kurdish small congregation. He told us about the work and some material needs – stoves, gas bottles and fans for some of the refugees who the church is working with. Then we met up with Yusuf, who has a heart for refugees. He drove us around the rest of the day and night.
The first camp we visited housed people from Qaraqosh, an Asyrian town in the Nineveh plain near Mosul, Iraq. They are now refugees in an area of Erbil called Ankawa. Approximately 170 families (around 900 people) are living there. They had been recently placed into housing units that are 6 x 2 meters with five people live in each unit and sometimes more.
Wells were dug at the camps and water is pumped into large water containers. Refugees continually go to the containers to get water. Women wash the clothes in large buckets by hand with little or no detergent. They then string a rope from one end of their unit to the other to dry their clothes. The men have built a three-sided room by attaching extensions to their units on the outside. These “rooms” are covered with blue tarps that were gifts from the U.N. for initial housing when they fled. The rooms have a two-burner stove and a bottle of gas.
In the back of the camps there are restrooms and separate shower units for men and women. Part of the sewage flowed through the middle of the camp. The smell was terrible. The piping system was designed to flow outside of the wall and discharge on top of the ground. This was about 20 to 30 feet from the units where people live.
Much of the aid that comes to the refugees is from the Catholic Church, which puts their priests in charge. They oversee the organizing of water, well digging, running the water system and pumps, and distributing food, money, medicine, and other essentials.
The next camp we visited was at some abandoned warehouses. The refugees were divided into sections for each family group. We did not go inside; the people came and congregated outside. We talked to them about their needs and left. This camp had about 700 people living there. Finally we went to two large camps, which were also run by the Catholic Church. They were organized in the same fashion as the other camps we had seen that day.
The greatest need is food. These people left their homes with little or nothing; now they are living in difficult conditions with little opportunity for work. They rely completely on aid from the local government and foreign aid. What they ask for most are pumps for water systems, filters for water, food, medicine and formula for babies, detergent for clothes, stoves, fans, and gas bottles for cooking.
The refugee camps are similar to reservations I have seen in Oklahoma. The people just sit all day waiting for some kind of hope. It seems most of them feel that hope is beyond reach. The younger people still have a glimmer of hope that things may change in the near future. Many of the refugees we visited had been in a camp since August 2014. When we talked to locals about the option of the refugees returning to their homes, we were told it will take at least another two years before the refugees can return.
We started with a devotion and prayer. We went to pick up pamphlets and books to hand out in the camps. At 11 a.m. we went to a coffee shop in Ankawa to use the Internet. While there, we gave a Bible to a man from Bangladesh. He began reading it immediately. Later a group of aid workers came to the shop. We started talking to them; one was a Catholic from Italy. Alberto spoke with him in Italian. Another was an Arab Christian Tony spoke with him, and Terry spoke with a Muslim Kurd. He was 38 year and the father of a 3-year-old daughter, and another child on the way. He told me about a time when during his 10 years living in England he had been going through a tough time. A Christian told him that if he would pray in the name of Jesus, a particular problem he was experiencing would be solved. That night he prayed in the name of Jesus and the next morning the problem was solved. At the coffee shop, he accepted from us a Bible in Sorani and promised to read it. I also gave him my email address so he could ask questions if he wanted.
We eventually went walking in the area to find lunch, and stopped at a place where all the workers were from Syria. We gave them New Testaments in Arabic and they were gladly received. We then walked from the restaurant to the camp we previously visited. We spent time with a friend and his family. When we met him at first, he would not talk about his Catholic faith, and did not want to talk to an Evangelical. Today, however, he translates for Tony and defends the Protestant stance against praying to Mary and attends a Protestant church service. We used him to translate to the other families in nearby units and were able to share our faith with other families.
We then went to a nearby Protestant church that was next to the camps. This was a new church that was renting an apartment and holding services in Arabic for the people from Qaraqosh and the Nineveh plains, several people from the camp were there, and about 60 people were in attendance.
After church we went to the Chaldean Club for dinner. Two men invited us to dine with them. They were Christians from Aleppo, Syria, and were working in Irbil while their families were living in Aleppo. The people in Aleppo are without electricity, gas. Additionally, food is hard to come by according to these men.
We began our day as usual: breakfast, devotional, and prayer. We then took a taxi to Ankawa and went back to the same coffee shop as the day before. A man sitting at the door spoke English, so Terry stopped to speak with him. He owns auto shops in Erbil and Detroit, Michigan. His family was across the street in the U.S. Embassy trying to get a visa to go to the U.S. He needed medical care for diabetes. He was a Chaldean that spoke Aramaic, Arabic, Sorani, and broken English. A young man sitting at the next table (also a Chaldean) helped me translate. Terry was able to give the man the gospel and pray for him, Terry then gave them both Bibles in Arabic.
While Terry was with them, Alberto and Tony were speaking with a young American. He was a former Marine who is now fighting with the Peshmerga. He did not know how long he had been in Erbil. He was suffering from PTSD. They gave him a Bible and prayed for him.
Later we walked to the refugee camp. On the way we stopped and had tea with a man named George from Kirkuk. His family had made it out of Iraq to Sweden, but he did not get a visa. He was waiting to get a visa and money so he, too, could go to Sweden. Through this process he had become a follower of Jesus.
After connecting George with a local Evangelical pastor, we went to a refugee camp. We met with our friend in his caravan and discussed the issue of praying to Mary. Yusuf picked us up at the house and took us to the market in the city centre. We purchased diapers, eggs, and whole frozen chickens for the refugees at the warehouse.
A truck took the products to the warehouse for us Yusuf translated for Tony as he preached the gospel. Then the leaders of the camp distributed the food, diapers, and feminine products Tony then went up the stairs and had tea with the leaders and encouraged them to read their bibles. In the evening we went to a Club/Restaurant a good place to meet people. Tony spoke to the Norwegian and a man from Yemen who lived in England for a period of time about the gopsel . The Norwegian was an atheist and the man from Yemen was a professing convert to Christian who did not understand the Gospel.
We began the day with a devotion and prayer. We then walked about two miles to a wholesaler for chicken and eggs. We purchased 14 cartons of eggs and 17 cartons of chickens. Each carton of eggs contained 12 flats of 30 eggs. The boxes of chicken had 10 frozen chickens each. We distributed the products among two camps. We did have an opportunity to preach the Gospel before the distribution.
We had lunch with the leader of the second camp; he was a headmaster of a primary school for 36 years. Terry spent about an hour talking to his cousin about the gospel and how to improve his English. We next went to the coffee shop where we met a large group people were sitting around a table. One of the men was very loud, he has a ministry dressing as a clown and somehow preaching the gospel.
We walked to the refugee camp and visited four families. We gave the gospel and distributed audio Bibles. One man was writing about his experience in Qaraqosh with IS to Erbil living in tents, to the mall, and then in caravans. We next walked back to the coffee shop and waited for Yusuf to come and translate where we were distributing food. Tony gave the gospel to the first camp that we distributed eggs and chicken in; this camp was in an abandoned school.
The next camp had a lot of tension. The caravans were much closer together and had many young men. Tony shared the gospel. We were taking pictures of the food distribution when a young man said his turn for food had been skipped. He knocked the eggs out of someone’s hands and out of frustration created a conflict. We had to stop the food distribution and bring in soldiers to stop the fighting. After about 20 minutes, we were able to continue. After we distributed the food we were invited into a small room for tea with a family. The room was about 12 feet x 20 feet and 10 people slept there. The oldest daughter had two years of medical school remaining when her family were forced to flee. She wants to enrol at the University of Erbil, but cannot get the appropriate paper work.
We began the day with devotions and prayer. Then we went to Family Mall where we priced products for care packages. We bought women’s hygiene products and diapers in the market. We also purchased 100 MP3 players. Tony had some SD cards and we will super glue them into the MP3 players and distribute them in the camps.
We then went to the chicken market, and bought 49 boxes of chicken, 10 whole birds per box – 1.5kg per chicken. We bought 41 boxes of eggs. Eggs came with 12 flats of 30 eggs. Y and Ay met us at the chicken store to deliver the products to the camps. We dropped off the products at one camp and then went to another. We shared the gospel and distributed the products until we noticed that we were going to be short some chickens.
When we finished with the first camp, we went to the second. The priest left the camp before we shared the gospel. We then distributed the products. One girl about 15 to 17 years old fell after getting her goods. The people gasped, but no one helped her. She sat in the middle of the eggs crying, so Terry helped her up and gave her another flat of eggs.
We began with devotions and prayer then took a taxi to the coffee shop across from the Consulate. We then went to a Syrian restaurant, then to the refugee camp. We stopped at a money exchange and checked on a young man we had given a Bible to a few days previous. He had not read it. We talked to him about the importance of reading the Bible and gave him an audio one. We also handed out a Bible to a young man from Bangladesh. When we got to the camp, we found our friend and began to go to different caravans to share the gospel. The first house was a widow’s home; her husband had died a year ago. Her youngest son was in the process of becoming a priest. She was well taken care of by her son.
We next visited another widow and her son’s family. Her son was a teacher and father of three sons. The next house we visited had a couple with four kids (three boys and one girl). The father was a truck driver for an oil company. He was driving from Baghdad to Mosul with his brother when they were stopped by IS. He was beaten with the butt of a gun; they broke his shoulder and cut his head open. They forced them to say the Shahada (an Islamic creed) and then let him go, but kept his brother for ransom. They told the man to bring $50,000 in 24 hours or he would not see his brother again. The next day they texted him a picture of his brother’s severed head.
On the way to church, we passed a man who was a Sikh. Tony told him he should seek the one true God and gave him an audio Bible.
We caught a taxi to the Evangelical church. The driver was a Kurdish Sorani speaker. Tony gave him a Bible.
We had a good ministry in handing out bibles to Taxi drivers.
The church had about 50 people in attendance. Tony got to preach a short message from the psalms. After church, we went out to eat with several people including pastor and his wife.
We packed up everything and moved the material downstairs. We left our clothes and bags in the hotel. We got picked up by a Kurdish pastor. We had two types of children’s literature and two types of adult literature. We also had audio Bibles in Kurmanji and Arabic.
Tony had purchased packets through a pastor in Ranwa. The parcels contained two packages of sugar, a box of tea, 2 bags of lentils, 2 bottles of vegetable oil, 4 sticks of canola oil, and other necessities. The parcels cost around 14 U.S. dollars each and we had 200 parcels. On the way to Ranwa, the car broke down and we had to be picked up by the pastor in Ranwa.
I also spoke with a young man from Kabane, Syria who is being mentored by the pastor from Erbil . He got married and was on his honeymoon when they were warned that IS was 30 kilometers away. He and his wife fled to Turkey. He was there for a while until Turkey opened its borders and let IS come in to kill the refugees. Then he fled again, this time to Erbil. This young man and his wife were living in a tent provided by the UN and then the church invited his family and others to live in the church building. He saw how Christians loved the refugees and how they worshipped. He started asking questions. The pastor has been mentoring him for the last seven months.
In Ranwa, the people were already waiting in line for us. We handed out parcels and literature to 200 families. It was amazing to watch these people ask for more literature and the openness of these professing Muslim Syrian refugees. Many are tired of Islam and are looking for something better. We took a taxi ride back to Erbil it was a hair raising experience the driver was crazy and took too many risks. That night Yusuf took us to the airport in Erbil at about 12:30 a.m.
The next day we waited in the business lounge for over 12 hours but we got to speak to several Muslims about the gospel, so it was worth the wait.