Friday, September 05, 2014

Despair and hope in northern Iraq

Dakota Daemyn

Dakota Daemyn*, a disaster response specialist serving with OM Near East, led a week-long assessment of the current crisis in northern Iraq. That assessment forms the basis for our ongoing ministry to displaced Iraqis in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

“We fled to the village outside Mosul the first time ISIS came,” one man told me, his thin, earnest son translating for him. “After things settled down we went back in. The second time we were given 10 hours to leave. At the edge of town they ripped up our passports, they destroyed everything we had.”

On the other side of his son, his wife rocks back and forth, clearly traumatized. Farther along in the room they share with two other families, people lie aimlessly on mattresses, as two ladies prepare a small meal.

“We were on the mountain for days,” two teenagers tell me later. “Then we made it out, through Syria, coming here.” The “here” that they refer to is a shoulder of dirt beside the highway, in the hills, on the edge of a small city in the Kurdish-administered region of northern Iraq. A dozen or more family tents, rough shelters made of tarpaulin and other scraps of material, have sprung up under the line of trees that would elsewhere be a local picnic spot. They tell me more in halting Arabic about their journey from the mountains, where they and their fellow Yazidi people were isolated by the fundamentalist Islamic group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

As we talk, an elderly man points out his dwindling stock of medicine. “I need two of these every day,” he explains, “but what can I do? Who will help me?”

The Yazidi people are now scattered throughout the north of Iraq – in roadside camps like this, under highway interchanges, in schools and in unfinished construction sites. Each site has its own problems. At one stretch of construction in a town near the country’s border, approximately 1,500 people live in vaguely demarcated living areas – but there is no running water and the local authority’s efforts to provide latrines are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people.

Unfinished walls mean children run the risk of falling several stories to the ground below. Elsewhere, in a school housing 75 families, there is uncertainty as to when the new school year will begin and classrooms are needed. The school start date will almost certainly be pushed back, but most estimates foresee it being a month away.

Ray of hope

“My family and I slept two nights on the streets,” Ata* explains. “Then we moved to the school once they told us it was available. After a few days my youngest brother, who still receives a salary, was able to rent us a motel room.”

Now Ata and his wife, along with their four boys, live in a bedroom in a basic motel. The family is one of the luckiest, able to move away from the desperate conditions and searing temperatures of the school building.

Yet among all the despair there is also hope. Ata has not been among those lying on mattresses waiting for help to come. Driving around the area in the car that he and his family used to flee, he has moved among his people, finding out which schools and villages they are staying in. We go with him to one of these schools, talking with the people there about their most pressing needs.

The heavily-treated water is making them all sick, they explain, and they miss bread, which is a staple of their diet. Working with Ata, we order bread from a local bakery and buy bottles of water – in many cases the food resources are available for purchase, yet they are just beyond the buying power of many of those stranded here.

By all accounts the people of these cities have been very generous to the new arrivals – local television shows clips of affected people, with the words, “Helping these people is a national and religious obligation” – but there are limits to what they can provide. Yet it’s still heart-wrenching to drive past store stacked full of goods, while just a few streets away sit those struggling to get through the day.

After we unload over 500 loaves and several cases of water, Ata is able to sit with the community leaders and get a list of people present in the school, along with explanations about their greatest needs. It’s impossible for one group to meet all the needs, but it’s vital to do something.

Due to the growing health concerns of so many people living crowded together, we talk with Ata about focusing on hygiene packs to prevent disease spreading. Experience working with displaced families in neighboring countries has highlighted this as a real need in crowded conditions, which is often overlooked in the rush to provide food and shelter. We make plans with Ata to move to the other schools too and collect numbers there, so that enough washing and cleaning products can be brought to meet the urgent needs.

At one point, as we drive towards the school with the car’s trunk and back seat filled with steaming bags of bread, their heat exacerbating the 113˚F heat outside, I ask Ata why he is doing this. “What motivates you, I want to know, when so many of your fellow people are stuck in a cycle of despair?”

“Because Jesus prepared me for this,” he explains, “because these are my people. God prepared me to do this before the foundation of the world.”

Among a very small minority of his people who have embraced the Christian faith, Ata has faced real persecution from his fellow Yazidi. It would be much easier to stay in his motel room, to follow up a promised job with an oil company, and to ignore the plight of those who had caused him so much harm. But motivated by a deep, genuine sense of the love of Christ, Ata is compelled to serve his people in their time of need, bringing a ray of hope into a hopeless situation.

*Name changed

If you would like to purchase a food packet that will be distributed to an Iraqi or Syrian refugee family, through OM's workers, please click here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ukraine Prayer Update

We've just received this update from our OM team in Ukraine:

Ukraine Needs Your Prayers

- The conflict in Ukraine continues to grow in intensity and scale of destruction.

- The MH17 flight tragedy in Ukraine's eastern region has shocked the world.

- The conservative death toll figures from the conflict since mid-April is now over 2000 people and 6000 wounded. More than half of those in the last month.  Recently about 60 have died every day.

- The number refugees or internally displaced persons (IDP) is over 330,000.

- In several large cities hundreds of thousands people are without basic necessities.  Lugansk still has an estimated 250,000 living without running water, electricity, gas now for 3 weeks.

- Vital city services like water pumping stations, electrical substations and strategic factories etc. have been damaged or destroyed.

- Around 200 bridges have been blown up.

- There are hundreds being held captive.

OM with its ministry partners have been ministering in many different ways.  Food and emergency Aid to and sheltering of Refugees, kids camps to IDPs, ministry to soldiers, gifts of Bibles, NT and literature.

- Over the last weeks we have helped finance those ministering bravely to evacuate hundreds of those trapped but wanting to flee the conflict zone. This continues to be a major need.

- There are no indications that the conflict will be over soon. We are preparing for ministry during winter. With an energy crisis expected to hit just a soon as the cold weather arrives, we need to change over from natural gas to an alternative heat source at at least three locations where OM teams are ministering. It is very likely to be a tough winter for Ukraine this year.

- for Peace.
- for evil in the midst of the conflict to be thwarted.
- for salvation for people's souls.
- physical protection.
- heating this winter.
- wisdom, Kingdom partnerships and resources.              

Please pray for Ukraine. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hope in Desolation

An explosion shatters the stillness of the night.

People scramble for shelter, the air thick with fear as they huddle together, wondering if they will even live to see another morning. A mother struggles to silence her crying child and cringes at the shouts that seem to echo across the dessert. An orphan crouches into the shadows and trembles as he hears the heavy footsteps that beat across the sandy terrain. As yet another bomb rumbles through the war-torn landscape, ripping up everything in its path, there is only one question that remains...

When will it all end?

For the people of Syria, these types of experiences have become a reality that they face each day. Several million have been internally displaced during the ongoing conflict and many others have already fled to neighboring countries.

However, even in the midst of tragedy, God is working and transforming lives. Operation Mobilization is currently involved in aid efforts and has witnessed people from all backgrounds come to faith.

Partnering with local churches and Christian groups, OM is beginning to see openness in a culture that was once very difficult to penetrate.

A Syrian woman and her child seek refuge in a neighboring country.
Pray for the Displaced...
-Comfort and peace in the midst of difficult living conditions
-Changed lives that will go back and impact Syria

Pray for the Arab Church...
-Continued encouragement and perseverance
-Wisdom and direction as they engage with the people
-Direction as they faithfully serve
-They would not grow weary
-Thrive and trust in Jesus, despite danger and persecution

Pray for OM's Work in the Near East...
-The right people would join us
-Development of sustainability projects
-God would bring a social media coordinator
-New teams going to Zahle and Ibid

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Abby

Like so many other young artists, Abby's experience at Incarnate 2014 was nothing short of life changing. Skilled in over five instruments, her giftedness in the area of music was unparalleled by any other student. In fact, she was so talented, that even Incarnate leader Bill Drake found himself astounded at her musical genius.

However, despite her impressive strengths in the area of music, Abby was also very broken and damaged. Originally from Finland, her early life had been one of abuse and pain that she was desperately trying to forget. Her time at Incarnate was a drastic change from the world she had previously known, but each day was still a struggle that she had to overcome.

For the final project, each musical artist was required to create one song, showcasing everything that they had learned during the previous three months. Inspired by a recent lesson on the "Story Arc" from Genesis to Revelation, Abby chose to write four songs instead of one.

Her idea was that each song would signify a piece of the remarkable story of God's redemption and love for His people.

1. Location (The Garden of Eden)
2. Dislocation (The Fall)
3. Relocation (The Cross)
4. Restoration (Resurrection/New Life)

She was able to complete the first two sections of her musical composition, however, when she reached the third piece she couldn't go any further. As her frustration mounted, Abby began to wrestle with many events that had occurred in her past.

It was one night in the recording studio that she finally broke down, confessing and sharing everything that she had been through. As the Incarnate team gathered around and prayed for her, Abby was finally delivered from the pain and bitterness that had plagued her for so many years.

As this healing began to take place, the music also began to flow. When she finished the last note of the last song, there was no doubt that Abby's life had been completely transformed.

Her piece, which she titled "The Restoration Suite," is a striking reflection of her personal journey, conveying the awe-inspiring beauty of love and forgiveness.

While she is still uncertain about her future plans, the leadership team at Incarnate hopes to eventually help her record her own album. There is no doubt that God has gifted Abby with her incredible musical abilities for a reason. As she continues to follow Him, Abby trusts that He will guide and direct each of her steps on how to use her talents to bring Him glory.

Watch the Incarnate 2014 video: Restoration Suite

Friday, July 18, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Kara

With her contagious laugh and bubbly personality, Kara brought joy to everyone who attended Incarnate 2014. As a small town girl from Minnesota, Kara had grown up in a large homeschooling family with seven other siblings.

Time - Oil paint on canvas
Although she had only taken one online art course, she possessed incredible talent, particularly in the area of painting. Her passion was to create art of people that society often considered to be insignificant or unimportant.

She was especially skilled at painting with a knife, creating a unique "ruggedness" that truly captured the essence of each subject. 

Not only was Kara an accomplished artist, but she also impressed the Incarnate team with her heart for missions. She had previously been working with a refugee ministry and was already on her way to be a career missionary with substantial support.

Several weeks into the Incarnate program, Kara approached Teri Drake, one of the leaders, and shared her desire to go to Ethiopia as a missionary.

Teri wisely suggested that she write to the Ethiopian field leader, asking if they had an art program that she could participate in. She then requested that Kara draft up a list of her passions and the things that truly excited her.

When she finally received a message from Ethiopia, Kara came again to Teri, "The leader said that they don't have a vision for art, but I could do it on the side."

Teri paused for a moment and then replied, "But I didn't see teaching English on your list of passions."

Protection and Provision - Oil paint on canvas
This wise counsel impacted Kara, eventually influencing her decision to participate in the art program in Belgium instead. Now, as she has returned home, she is currently raising support for her first art missionary trip.

Throughout her time at Incarnate, Kara proved to be a true inspiration to everyone who met her. As she embarks on this newest journey, she is excited to use art as a means for reaching people all over the world.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Emma

The shadows danced on the walls of the small cave as Emma leaned against the stones, eyes closed and heart searching for answers. The group had long since left, but she had requested to remain alone, in a cave where persecuted Christians had once come to worship in secret.


It was here in this silent darkness that Emma felt she could truly hear the voice of God, and this moment, He was telling her to sing.

Emma opened her eyes slowly, feeling His presence deep within her, and wanting nothing more than to answer His call.

But as she took a breath to begin her song, she hesitated, feeling a lump in her throat that seemed like it was suffocating her; keeping her from making any sound.

When she finally emerged from the cave, she met with her Incarnate discipleship group, tears filling her eyes as she began to weep.

Incarnate students gather in a cave where persecuted
Christians worshipped in secret during the Middle Ages.


Originally born in Zimbabwe, Emma had lived in New Zealand for the majority of her life. Now, as a 20-year-old student, she had flown halfway around the world to spend time in Italy at Incarnate 2014.

However, the past few weeks at Incarnate had not been easy. Not only was she painfully shy, but she wasn't engaging, completing any projects, or even asking for help despite the staff's tireless efforts.

Perhaps most concerning was Emma's difficulty with the major project of creating artwork for a local festival. In fact, she was struggling so much that Incarnate team contemplated sending her home.

It was during one last effort by Incarnate leader, Bill Drake, that he presented Emma with a halfway finished song. Little did he know the impact that the words would have in Emma's broken life.

Standing here in the darkness, I want to see you, I want to see you.
Standing here in the silence, I want to hear you, I want to hear you.

The lyrics resonated with Emma in a way that nothing else had seemed to. Not only did they describe her experience in the cave, but they also reflected her heart's deepest desire to truly understand God's purpose for her future.

As she completed the song and performed it in the studio, the team watched with complete amazement at the transformation that had taken place in Emma's heart.

When her time at Incarnate finally drew to a close, she was reluctant to return home to New Zealand. While she is still unsure about her future, the three months spent in Italy sparked a desire to join OM Arts or be involved in music in some capacity.

As she seeks to follow God's plan, the Incarnate team continues to pray for clarity, guidance, and the ability to process everything that she learned at Incarnate. Through the struggles, fears, and even heartache, Emma had the opportunity to experience things that she could have never imagined.

While she may not completely understand her next steps, there is no doubt that God can use her in amazing ways if she continues to trust and follow Him.

Watch the Incarnate 2014 video: Your Voice