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Despite ISIS, BGR serving in tough places

KURDISTAN (BP) — When ISIS began shelling this family’s northern Iraq neighborhood, they had to flee into the night like everyone else. But with four children with disabilities, their escape was more difficult than most.

A daughter who is blind, another with epilepsy and two sons with muscular dystrophy distinguished the family from others.

They left their cattle and chicken farm and walked three hours to the relative safety of a nearby city. Meanwhile, 70 of their townspeople were kidnapped by ISIS and their fate remained unknown.

Baptist Global Response is onsite to help families displaced by the terrorists.

“When I met this family, they had taken shelter with seven other families, 30 people in total,” said Abraham Shepherd, who directs BGR work in the Middle East. “When you visit with these forcibly displaced families, you are struck that they come from different segments of society — a policeman, a working mother, a nun — yet they all shared the same story of pain and suffering. Escaping through the night, they left with nothing.

“When we met them, they had been displaced for one month, and only one food basket had been given to them.”

BGR relief teams have found many families like these, pooling their resources to rent a house or apartment, Shepherd said. At times as many as 90 people are crammed into one space, and they generally have gone unnoticed by relief groups who focus their aid donations on the big refugee camps.

Yet even in the camps, conditions are difficult.

“We ended one day with a visit to a Syrian refugee camp,” Shepherd said. “It has become a small city. You can smell the stench of the sewage, running from the many public toilets scattered throughout the camp.”

Some of those families have been stuck in that camp for three years while the crisis back home grinds on, Shepherd said.

“We learned that if you’ve been a long-term refugee, you have the right to be ‘upgraded’ to a tent with a concrete floor, and then later you will be allowed to build a structure on the same spot, instead of the tent,” Shepherd said. “But they have had three years of living in tents, with no one finding a permanent solution to their problem. They are tired of waiting for a country to accept them. They are depressed. Their kids are undernourished. They just want to go home.”

Using resources provided by Global Hunger Relief, the Southern Baptist channel for tackling the global hunger crisis, BGR teams are bringing hope and the Good News of God’s love to despairing families, Shepherd said.

“It’s a privilege to serve here in tough places, touching people’s lives in a way that will have lasting impact,” Shepherd said. “We are able to do this because of God’s love and your prayers — and the generous giving of Southern Baptists.

“We have been able to have access to places no one has reached — and to people’s lives — in an amazing way.”

Donations at www.globalhungerrelief.org will replenish resources used in this relief effort. Donations are also possible by texting BGR to 80888.

    About the Author

  • Mark Kelly