Pure and Undefiled Religion
The Apostle James admonishes us as people of faith to take action on that faith. His strongest admonition comes in the first part of his letter to the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad:
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27 NASB)
The real question is this: How many orphans and widows have you visited today?
The very real needs of this world stare us in the face every day. Sometimes those needs walk right up to your car at an intersection and ask for money. Sometimes those needs are half a world away, but still very close to the heart of God. Here is one of them. Her name is Myriam.
In many ways Myriam is one of the fortunate ones. In August 2014, when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forced her Christian family to leave their home in Qaraqoush, Iraq, they fled to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Now she lives with her parents and sister in a mall that has been converted into a refugee camp. The good news is that they escaped with their lives. The bad news is that many did not, and those who did saw things that no one should ever have to see. Many thousands are still held in the grip of violent Islamist terrorists, faced daily with harsh choices that involve death or something worse.
In this video there is no death in Myriam’s face. On the contrary, there is life, love, and joy, even when she speaks forgiveness to the ISIS fighters who persecuted her family and their community. Recently CBN spoke to Essam Nagy, the reporter with SAT-7 news who first found Myriam. (To see the interview please click here.) In that interview, he explained that she and her family are doing well, but still in the refugee facility. And yet they have hope – something that eludes many Iraqi refugees.
What is really happening in these refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan? Abby Abildness of Healing Tree International provided an answer recently to intercessors on the Saturday morning conference call hosted by Prayer Surge NOW. Christian refugees truly have hope in Christ Jesus (Messiah Yeshua) even when everything else is gone. That is why Myriam could speak forgiveness to those who had forced her family to leave. They, like all the refugees of Northern Iraq and Syria, have suffered tremendously. Many thousands have died from brutal executions, hunger, thirst, exposure, and disease. Those who have survived are traumatized by the loss of loved ones, physical injuries, illness, privation, and every imaginable suffering. Many remain captive in ISIS territory, particularly girls and women who daily suffer rape as sex slaves. Many of these women have preferred suicide to such shame and pain, and many families would prefer death rather than dishonor for their daughters caught in such circumstances.
This is the difference between the Christian and non-Christian refugees. The Christians know there is something beyond this life, and they cling to the promises of God and of His Messiah. Others, like the Yezidis, have no such eternal hope. With their lives shattered beyond repair, they look only for a chance to leave Iraq and move to a more hospitable country.
This is not to say that the refugees have ceased caring for themselves. They do what they can for one another in the camps, even to the point of temporarily adopting children who are separated from their families. Myriam spoke of searching for her friend Sandra whom she had not seen since they left Qaraqoush. She hopes to see Sandra again one day, but at this point her fate is uncertain. Orphans abound; many of them have not yet found their siblings, their parents, or even friends. For that reason, many families have taken in children in hope that one day they may be reunited with their families. And yet the ordeal is not over even when they reach the camps. Hazards are unavoidable when so many thousands are crowded into temporary shelters. For example, those living in tents run the risk of fire from the stoves provided for heat and cooking. Women have lost their lives in the very act of preparing food, leaving their families doubly deprived and grieving just when they had believed themselves to be in a place of safety.
The situation of these refugees is desperate, which is why the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has asked for help. Some 900,000 refugees have flooded into Iraqi Kurdistan since the Syrian Civil War began, many of whom arrived in August and September of 2014 as ISIS made its greatest gains in Iraq. According to the Kurdish media network Rudaw, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 330,000 internally displaced people in Iraq remain in substandard shelters. The Kurdistan government is doing its best to cope with the crisis, and recently opened an admirable new camp for 24,000 Yezidis near the city of Qadiya. In his remarks about the new camp, KRG spokesman Safeen Dizayee said, “We are very happy to see this model, and hope it will alleviate the sufferings of residents . . . We ask private individuals and companies to continue their efforts to help internally displaced persons.”
The KRG could not cope without help from private sources. That is why Healing Tree International and has connected with other ministries to establish the Iraq Refugee Fund. This partnership has already produced several relief missions to Kurdistan providing help in particular to the Yezidi refugees who before now have had very little exposure to the message of salvation, healing, and restoration in Christ Jesus. That is changing as the Iraq Refugee Fund joins with pastors in Kurdistan to meet needs on multiple levels. Over the past year they have sent medical teams to provide treatment and supplies, as well as counselors and ministers to deal with the refugees’ spiritual and emotional wounds. Now they are working toward acquiring a permanent facility in Iraqi Kurdistan that will help focus the relief efforts of the local and international church.
As Abby noted, children need a safe and secure hope, which is what her ministry and their partners bring them in Messiah. She will be taking a team back to Iraq at the end of March to minister directly to the girls who have been held as sex slaves. These girls need so much, beginning with a restoration of the honor they have lost through no fault of their own. There is yet time to donate in support of this trip; those so led may go to the HTI donations page (please click here) and give either to the “Living Hope Alliance – Yezidi Refugee Camp”, or to the “Church of Kurdistan”.
This relief effort in Kurdistan is but one of an innumerable list of causes in the Kingdom of our Messiah. I myself have seen the very real needs of suffering human beings in Iraq, Mexico, the Philippines, and many other places, including the great cities of the United States. Providing help and hope to those in need is something that cuts across denominational lines. Christians of every tradition, Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers, and Jews all have a call to ease suffering and bring not only physical and emotional help, but eternal spiritual help as well. Those of us with a testimony of eternal hope in Messiah Yeshua should be the first in line, and should be ready to join with anyone holding the same testimony, regardless of our doctrinal differences. In the end, when our King calls us to account, He will be less impressed with our theological correctness than with our willingness to reach out with the resources He has given to help those in need. Whether it is Yezidi, Christian, and Muslim refugees in Iraq, or the poor and grieving in our own neighborhoods, let us do what we can as the Holy Spirit leads to make things better for others, both in this life and in the world to come.