As a harsh winter approaches in Iraq, several Christian groups have announced projects to assist the millions displaced by ISIS, which includes tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities fleeing for their lives.
Of these projects, perhaps the most ambitious is the Cradle of Christianity Fund (CCF). The fund seeks to aid Christian refugees affected by Iraq’s ongoing crisis in partnership with existing church and charity networks. It was seeded with $1 million from television producer Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey. Burnett’s best-known shows include “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “Shark Tank” and “The Voice.”
The CCF is led by Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement, a Christian think tank that promotes religious freedom abroad (Disclosure: this correspondent interned for IGE more than 4 years ago). Seiple told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the fund came about through an October meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Seiple says he was encouraged by the Jordanian ruler’s generosity. In his account, the king promised “we will take in Christians and treat them as citizens until they can return,” instead of marginalizing them in refugee camps.
Due to its relative security and stability, Jordan has been a refugee destination for decades. In response to a recent wave of over 4,000 Iraqi Christians, Jordan’s government recently announced an initiative to incorporate them into the country’s social-services network.
Since many of Iraq’s Christians left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, the CCF’s short-term goals include infusing refugee communities with much-needed funds, as well as readying them for the coming winter, since thousands of families still reside in flimsy UN-supplied tents. They intend to work within a proposed “safe zone” in Jordan, as well as collaborating with organizations in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region, where many of the country’s religious minorities have fled. (RELATED: ISIS To Mosul Christians: Convert Or Face The Sword)
Not to be outdone by Seiple’s ambition, the UK-based Barnabas Fund has plans to transport a British army camp overland from Afghanistan to Iraqi Kurdistan. Representatives from the charity did not provide additional comment by the time of this article’s publication.
A different approach comes from a Christian organization which has worked to protect and serve all Iraqis since 2005. The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) is perhaps most famous for supporting Canon Andrew White, an English clergyman who has served at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad for over 15 years and nicknamed “the Vicar of Baghdad.”
Scott Rye, treasurer of FRRME’s American arm, told TheDCNF that besides operating the free medical clinic operated by St. George’s Church, the foundation is providing winterized housing for refugees and filling the “aid gap” of needs unmet by major agencies operating in Kurdistan. But while much work remains, he fears attention to Iraqi Christians may be waning: “the need is not going away anytime soon. We’re already seeing media fatigue — with Ebola and the midterm elections, the media is turning its attention away from the ongoing crisis in Iraq.”
Seiple and Rye both pointed to the tough dilemma that Iraq’s minorities face today: to seek refuge abroad, to permanently resettle elsewhere in their country, or to ultimately try to return to their native soil. While the idea of leaving the Middle East forever is heartbreaking, Seiple said “we should never say no” to the option of asylum because of the horrific experiences that Iraq’s Christians have faced in recent months. Several western countries, most notably France, have announced that they will be providing asylum to Iraqi Christians. Rye acknowledges the need for more asylum visas, while stressing that “we are not in the business of coercing” Iraqis to choose one option over another. (RELATED: Imagining A Middle East Without Christians)
Seiple also recognized that relations between Western Christians and those in the Middle East can be strained. To church leaders who view American Christians with suspicion as potential “sheep-stealers” among ancient Orthodox and Catholic flocks, Seiple gave this message: “You are the first-century church. You are the church that was evangelized by the disciples. It is our privilege and honor to come alongside you.”
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