Late December, 2016 saw many, many changes in the Middle East, especially concerning the tentacles of ISIS. The strangle-hold on the second largest town in Iraq, Mosul, where ISIS has controlled since early summer, 2014, began to loosen when one-third of the town of 1.5 million was NOT under the control of ISIS.
Rev. Bob Armstrong of Love-Link Ministries from Bradenton, Florida (and “Operation Freed from ISIS”), yes me, I was invited by Kurdish leadership to see firsthand and to minister firsthand to those in need in this embattled city. However, due to continued skirmishes and the planting of Explosive devices by retreating ISIS, the government did not want to be “responsible” for an American; and complete access was denied. But at least I had the opportunity of going to the outskirts of the city and minister to warriors, refugees, homeless, colonels, even pray for Iraqi soldiers en-route to battle in Mosul, less than 7 miles away.
I even came within 20 feet of five ISIS Prisoners of War!
But first I stopped by the Armenian Christian village of Havresc (near the Syrian border) to visit school children where Love-Link helped to provide a school van so they could go to school in Duhok, Kurdistan. I was with my close warrior friend and mayor, _________. Tears came to his eyes as I was privileged to unveil for the very first time in that town the movie, “Havresc”!
Love-Link continues to reach out to survivors of ISIS by distributing food and diapers to those needy in tents. For security concerns, I cannot mention names or show faces, but Love-Link continues to rescue girls and families physically from ISIS and assists in their rehabilitation!
MIDEAST REPORT: BEHIND THE ENEMY FRONT LINES – WINTER 2017
The rescue of girls and families from ISIS continues! Survivors of ISIS receive aid. Love-Link provided this van for Iraqi Christian school children.
ISIS leaves dangerous explosive devices as they retreat!
One of the very highlights of this dangerous trip was spending a few hours with the top leadership of “Samaritan’s Purse” outside Dohuk at the Kanke Refugee camp which houses 16,000! We explored and discussed ways to work together mutually on special outreaches in the future. Fantastic Win!
I spent three days with a devoted Kurdistan pastor in Dohuk, preaching in his church and ministering and praying along-side of Pastor K. We visited in the homes of needy refugee families and gave out money and food. Most of these fled from Mosul earlier this year.
On a humorous note, I stayed one night in a “hell-hotel” (that’s okay, when I first went on the mission field, I slept in a tent!). Here were the amenities: No Internet, No electricity, NO heat in freezing weather, and NO toilet paper! You must bring your own. By the way, the importance was NOT in that order! I must confess, I “stole” from poor refugees! Let me explain: when a guest arrives in your home, they are served a cup of hot tea. On the table is a box of facial tissues (for napkins). I must admit, I took 8 tissues for later use, just in case—if you know what I mean! I know, kind of selfish.
With special permission, I went to Qaraqosh, a former, thriving city with many well-to-do-people of 75,000, outside Mosul. Thanks to ISIS, it was a true eerie “ghost town” with bombings and burnings from ISIS two years ago still evident. I warmly embraced Colonel _________ of the Nineveh Protection Unit, my host. He described how thankful he was for evangelical Americans who supported these Assyrians (first Christians) during the war on ISIS. Small signs of life started to show as hundreds had begun to come to clean up. It is gratifying to know (because I saw the footage on a national U.S. news channel upon my return to the States) that on Christmas Sunday, services were held in one church for the first time in over two years!! Food and water was delivered to the town. Iraqi military forces embark on a battle with ISIS in Mosul!
Qaraqosh was recently liberated by Iraqi and Kurdish forces. I prayed for one large 35-armored vehicle Iraqi force that was moving out to fight ISIS in Mosul that very day! The V for victory sign was shared by all.
But so, so much of the town remains in ruins. Even the burned-out churches had ISIS practice targets inside, not to mention the ISIS tunnels that were used by the enemy extensively. The devastation reminds me of French towns destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. The rubble and debris is sometimes several feet high. Most people will not return. But some clean-up has begun. I tell you, it is hard to encourage those involved in this sordid process, especially with ISIS only miles away.
Most tragic, was the gathering of several shoes and sandals inside a church which represented people, many church-goers, who were literally slaughtered by ISIS. They were buried without their shoes.
It was the most solemn moment as one realized that every shoe had a different, horrible tragic ending, but it represented a life of dedication. That site shook me to my very core!
In one of the burned-out churches in Qaraqosh, I picked up a burnt prayer book that somehow halfway survived the flames. As I held that prayer book in my hand, I prayed for this nation that God would show me how to be the most effective with His resources to bring people to the Lord and to happiness and peace. The burnt smell will forever go with me!
A respite of Christmas happiness and joy, I was with William Murray, the founder of the Religious Freedom Coalition, the umbrella group of Christmas for Refugees and Diapers for Refugees. I’ve been on the Board for over 30 years and have worked with Bill on numerous projects. I represented him in Lebanon for three days at events and was with him for several events with children and mothers in Kurdistan. Examining a burnt prayer book inside ISIS destroyed church near Mosul!
Overall, about 6,000 children and refugees were given food and gifts, hundreds of refugee mothers received specially designed “hygiene kits” and over 160,000 diapers for refugee mothers were recently delivered. I saw firsthand what a difference Bill Murray is making. And all received the Bethlehem Christmas story of hope! My original plan was to have a mini-summit of organization leaders figure out a game plan on how to deal with almost 100,000 refugees from Mosul alone. I interviewed 12 organization leaders on their thoughts and plans. Things are noticeably different. For example, the governments of Erbil (Kurdistan capital) and Duhok do NOT want ANY Arab refugees inside their cities. They understand that ISIS has infiltrated the Arab refugees and they do not want any trouble, so they are in United Nations camps way outside the cities. (I wish our December USA government would take note of the same!!). Outreaches to these refugees are ongoing and might even be manageable with the help of Christians!
THANK YOU for your prayers while I was in the war zone!
I am already in contact with Samaritan’s Purse in Kurdistan to push forward ways of mutual co-operation for my next mission’s trip, depending upon the strategies and outreaches.
Reaching behind the enemy lines…in your place!
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