I remember first hearing the news on a TV screen in America in the summer of 2014. ISIS, a rising Islamic terrorist group, had begun their violent attacks on minority groups in Northern Iraq. Their intent was to wipe out minority groups such as Christians, Yazidis, Kakai, and more as an Islamic religious cleansing. The only group they warned beforehand was Christians- stating either they abide by their laws, pay a high tax fine, or leave. The rest… were brutally attacked without warning and shown no mercy.
My heart began racing in that moment, and all I could do was pray and ask the Lord to intervene. I partially grew up in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq for a time, which caused a deep ache for these precious lives facing pain and tremendous loss. I couldn’t comprehend the evil that would allow a person to do such horrendous acts.
Time passed, and later that year I moved to Harrisburg, PA to begin working with the Burn. I arrived with a mindset to invest into this community for a long time… little did I know it would instead be an immediate launching pad to meet the faces of the very ones I was praying for. I learned that the Burn as a whole had spent several years weekly interceding for Iraq.
We were engaged and aware, ready to take action.
Soon enough, three girls and I hopped on a plane in January 2015, heading to the eye of the storm. With just one solid contact on the ground, we simply left with willing hearts ready to be led by Jesus, see the crisis first-hand, and search for ways to help. I’ll never forget walking outside the airport, inhaling the dusty air and peering out into the dry Iraqi plains as an instant love for this nation flooded my heart. A land so near to the heart of Jesus- not forgotten or forsaken, but seen and known. We felt immense privilege to be on the ground and see Iraq through His eyes of love.
Our first trip was both hopeful and heartbreaking. Camps were still being established, and NGO’s were arriving by the day to offer aid. Families were surviving in tents, makeshift homes, and abandoned buildings- whatever they could find to use as a shelter. We spent countless hours sitting with families, weeping together as they each shared their stories of how ISIS destroyed their lives. On one of our visits, I met a 6 year-old girl wearing a cast on her leg, sitting in the corner of a flat mat inside one of the makeshift homes. Her father was killed in front of her eyes, and when she protested with a cry, one the ISIS members broke her leg with his gun. I wept as I held her, feeling the Father’s embrace.
Often we would slip out our guitars, and just begin worshipping. We sang over families in tents, played our guitars while marching around a camp with a sea of children by our sides, worshipped outside of a medical clinic… basically anywhere we could! Hearts were evidently calmed as we invited the Holy Spirit to sustain these beautiful families in a way only He could. Declaring His peace, goodness and every promise of the Lord’s heart over them.
Our unforgettable first trip spiraled into the eventual joyous “yes” of giving our lives to this nation and moving to Northern Iraq. We’ve never been able to look away since. Seeing through the eyes of Jesus, who never turns away but only draws closer with a heart of compassion, our lives have forever been altered. We spent the rest of 2015 preparing to move, spreading the word and inviting those to join us along the journey, and invested more time within the country seeking the Lord’s heart for vision and direction. In 2016, one year after our initial trip, we packed our belongings and set off on a new adventure of living in Iraq! The Lord opened so many doors for us to begin investing through program building in camps, relational building with displaced families, doing monthly Burns with local believers, and adjusting to life in the Middle East.
While the urgency and needs of this region continue to fluctuate in time, we’re so grateful for the foundation of God’s love, His faithful leading, and His ways that always surpass our own understanding in the work we do. We’re honored to pour our worship out in this land, love those in need, and give our lives to this beautiful nation and see Iraq transformed.