Heartbreak and Inspiration in Northern Iraq

19th February 2015

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Samaritan’s Purse is distributing food, winter jackets, hygiene kits, kitchen kits, children’s clothing, blankets, pillows, mattresses, and more.

Two Samaritan’s Purse personnel from the UK have been part of those relief efforts and have encountered many heart-breaking as well as inspiring stories from the women, children and families they’ve been helping.

“At a distribution of winter jackets a young girl of about 10 appeared on her own. The expression on her face was one of extreme sadness,” explained Gordon McCann.

He added: “A couple of weeks previously she had been visiting her uncle when IS arrived at her parent’s home and took them away. She now feels very lonely. I cannot imagine how lonely and isolated she feels, having no parents and living in a place she has no knowledge of.”

Eldred Willey explains more about their life-saving efforts: “Our initial brief was to ‘save lives, reduce suffering and bring the hope of Christ’. However, as winter closed in, our focus was drawn increasingly to the first of those goals: saving lives. We were racing against the snow which was spreading down the slopes towards the valleys where thousands huddled against the bitter wind in summer tents and abandoned buildings.

“By the end of the year our section of the team had distributed 29,000 warm winter jackets and 12,000 thick fleece blankets. We gave out shovels, fire extinguishers, formula milk – anything which would help families survive the winter.”

Eldred went on to explain one example of the many ways they were also able to provide emotional and spiritual comfort to those facing extreme hurt: “Once as I came out of a health cluster meeting, a psychotherapist offered to share a taxi ride with me.

“Afterwards I was standing with her business card in my hand when our Programme Manager sent me a text: “Met a girl who escaped from Da-ash [ISIS] 4 days ago. I think we may need to get more details about current psychosocial options for these girls…She’s 15-17, and needs clothes right now. Her 12-year-old sister was killed.” I was able to text back the mobile number on the card in my hand.

“Soon afterwards two young women from our team had their arms around the bereaved teenager, and were praying for her as she cried. For me that little cameo captures something which only our unique faith can offer: the God who comes close to share our lives, who has ‘borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:4).”

Gordon says they encountered many individuals and families who came for help after being captured by IS: “At one distribution we met two young females who had been captured by IS and had been detained for some time. They had not physically been assaulted. They believe this to be because IS held many females captive where they were. Held together they sustained each other until one day they noticed a door had been slightly left open. They decided to make a run for Mount Sinjar. There they found the Peshmerga. Praise God that someone in the Peshmerga knew where there uncle was staying and they were united the day before we were due to give out jackets.”

Eldred says one of the most inspiring encounters came from working with other Christian leaders: “We had some exemplary church partners, including a Chaldean Catholic priest who called himself simply ‘a disciple of Jesus’; everyone else in the village called him ‘Abuna’ (father).

“Abuna knew by heart the number of Yazidi, Muslim and Christian families who were sheltering in the village, and arranged distributions for us which were a model of order and calmness. He always distributed to the Yazidis first because, as he put it, “they have suffered the most”.

Gordon concluded: “As I return home I will remember a land full of children not receiving education, a land full of people who are generous, a land where men stand round talking as they have no work, a land where there is great need for support from other countries.”

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