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As war heats up, Baptist aid workers brace for flood of refugees, seek vols

AMMAN, Jordan (BP)–The war is on in Iraq, and the trickle of hundreds of refugees flowing into Jordan and other neighboring countries could turn into a flood of thousands.

Southern Baptists, Jordanian Baptists and other evangelicals already are working in refugee camps on Jordan’s side of the border, and they hope to gain permission to work on the Iraqi side soon. They also hope to feed 10,000 or more people a day if they can gain access to northern Iraq, where the Kurds are suffering increasing hunger.

“We understand that in the Kurdish north is where malnutrition is the biggest, so we’re trying to find ways to get in there as quickly as possible,” said a Southern Baptist worker in Amman, Jordan’s capital. “We would like to have disaster relief teams come in and work in the north. [The situation] is all so dynamic — nothing has gone quite the way anyone expected so far. But we’d like to be able to do feeding for at least 10,000 people a day if we can get there.”


Refugees arriving at the Jordanian border are “afraid and tired” after the long drive to the border from Baghdad. It became longer and more dangerous after the main gas station and rest stop on the desert road was bombed in the early hours of the war.

“It’s about a 10-hour ride if you’re traveling really fast. A normal ride could be up to 12 hours. Without that refueling stop, it’s made things a lot tougher,” the worker reported. Once refugees reach the camps, “it’s been windy, rainy and cold — and tents are very hard to do much with. The wind has got a lot of sand in it. The situation is just tough for folks who are coming out.”

Working with Jordanian Baptists and other evangelical Christians, Southern Baptists are distributing thousands of diapers, baby formula, blankets and other supplies in border camps. They also intend to relieve hunger and meet medical needs. The International Mission Board has allocated $250,000 to fund aid efforts on both sides of the border.

“Jordan right now is not allowing Iraqis to cross the border,” the worker said. “They’re only allowing third-country nationals like Egyptians or Sudanese to come into Jordan. There are camps on the other side of the border and we’re working one step at a time to get into those. We don’t know how many people are in those camps.”


More than 1 million refugees fled into Jordan before and during the first Persian Gulf War, overwhelming the resources of the small nation of about 5 million people. This time, much depends on whether the anticipated battle of Baghdad ends quickly or becomes a street-to-street shootout with the civilian population caught in the middle.

“The whole refugee situation will hinge on how Baghdad goes, because you’re talking about 5 million people there,” the worker said. “I think the whole mood of the region will swing on what happens and the way the Iraqi people respond.”

Southern Baptist workers on the scene are asking for medical workers and other types of volunteers to join them and their Jordanian partners.

“We’re going to be compassionate through touching their human needs and compassionate through prayer,” the worker said. “By touching their need and by prayer, we’re praying that God will change the situation.

“As Jesus says in Matthew 25, ‘When I was in prison you visited me.’ Many of these people have been in a dire situation not unlike prison. So we want to visit them and share with them a cup of cold water in compassion that is motivated and empowered by prayer. We’re asking God to show us the doors that he has already opened up to these people — whether they’re Kurds or Turkmen or Shia or Sunni, all across Iraq — so they understand that Jesus loves them and has a personal interest in each one of them.”
Contributions may be mailed to: Iraq Response, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230-0767. Make checks payable to International Mission Board and designate “Iraq Response – General Relief.” Every dollar given will go 100 percent to relief ministries.
Give online: resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/961.htm.
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(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PREPARING AGAIN.

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  • Erich Bridges