Traumatized Yazidis Find Healing, Salvation in Christ
August 06, 2015
Displaced people in Iraq receive aid from a Christian ministry.
As the world began to see the degree of savagery unleashed on Yazidis, Christians and other groups in Iraq a year ago this week, few could imagine what part it would play in hundreds of people putting their faith in Christ.
On Aug. 3, 2014 the Islamic State (ISIS) began slaughtering defenseless civilians in northern Iraq's Nineveh Governorate, and the militants abducted many others. The bloodshed went on for several days. Having taken Mosul on June 10 last year, ISIS went west to attack Nineveh Governorate's Sinjar and Tal Afar districts, massacring 500 Yazidi men and abducing hundreds of men, women and children.
"For months, Yazidis trapped on Mt. Sinjar faced imminent death either at the hands of ISIS or through starvation," the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a statement this week. "At least 200,000 civilians, most of them Yazidis, were forced to flee for their lives."
With beliefs and rituals rooted in Zoroastrianism, mixed with elements of Christianity and Islam, Yazidis dwelled in the high-altitude Sinjar Mountain range stretching from Iraq's Nineveh Governorate to Syria. Many fled to Erbil and Dohuk, enabling Christian ministries aiding refugees in those areas to reach a people group that previously had been inaccessible.
One Yazidi religious leader, whose name is withheld for security reasons, was suspicious of a ministry that provided aid to Yazidis along with the message of salvation through faith in Christ, the Iraqi director of the organization said.
"He didn't like us helping people or entering their homes to evangelize, and he reported us to the local security police to stop our operations in the area he lives in," said the director, whose name is withheld for security purposes. "We were asked by the local police to stop, and we did."
Soon after, the Yazidi leader fell ill. His fellow Yazidis told him that many of them who had gotten sick had been healed after Christians came to pray for them.
"He asked for us to pray for him, and we did, and the Lord healed him the same week, after he thought he was dying," the director said. "The last time we were there, he was standing surrounded by all his followers and telling everyone about how Jesus healed him, and after I gave a speech to the group and did an invitation to Christ, we counted 136 people who surrendered their lives to Christ."
With assistance from Christian Aid Mission, the indigenous ministry in Iraq this year began visiting sick refugees with a large van equipped as a mobile medical clinic. Three volunteer doctors, five volunteer nurses, five church members, one psychologist and one dentist have served 2,500 refugees – about 50 to 80 per day.
Another refugee from the Yazidi community was on the verge of death due to lack of medicine for his diabetes, the ministry director said. The mobile medical van personnel found him just in time.
"We provided insulin for him, which made his condition completely stable, and after we presented Christ to him, he expressed great interest and accepted the Lord Jesus," he said.
The Yazidi's wife, daughters and their husbands also put their faith in Christ, he added.
"It was not that easy, because he had to face the big challenges of the family and the Yazidi clergy, but this person expressed his faith and was bold about it," he said.
Other Yazidi leaders have objected to the evangelization efforts, calling it an exploitation of aid for desperate refugees. While Christian workers endeavor to bring holistic healing to Yazidis, both physical and spiritual, in June a Yazidi member of the Kurdish parliament, Vian Dakhil, complained that Christians were exploiting refugees' trauma by providing Bibles and tracts along with aid, according to a report by Voice of America (VOA).
Some Yazidi leaders have also accused foreign missionaries of offering cash or promising easier access to visas to the West as inducements to convert, according to the VOA report.
While religious and political leaders have felt threatened by Christianity since its inception, Christian Aid Mission's Middle East director said the Yazidi leaders' complaints overreach, and that the ministries cannot be blamed for exploitation.
"Christian ministries in Iraq exploit Yazidis in the same way that firemen exploit people in burning buildings," he said. "If we want to place blame for Yazidis turning to Christ, I think we can blame the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit is giving them an interest – the Yazidis are asking for New Testaments and the gospel. These are not being forced on them."
Most established Christian assistance groups and churches in northern Iraq have conducted themselves ethically with regard to the displaced people, stated an official in the Kurdistan region's office of Christian affairs, according to VOA. The news agency cited some problems from newer, "upstart" agencies.
A van equipped as a mobile medical clinic serves a mother and child.
The ministry that Christian Aid assists has long worked in the region. The July 21 VOA story mistakenly cited Christian Aid as the ministry working among the refugees, and two other errors gave the impression that more Yazidis had become Christians than is the case. Missions Insider reported on Feb. 5 that of those who have come to Christ through one ministry's outreach in Erbil and Dohuk, 70 percent were Yazidis; by deleting one word from what was supposed to be a direct quote, VOA not only overstated that 70 percent of Yazidi refugees had come to Christ through the one ministry but rendered the quote ungrammatical.
Secondly, besides again confusing Christian Aid with the ministry it assists, VOA gave the impression that 80 Yazidi families converted, whereas Missions Insider reported that 80 families among all displaced peoples, not just Yazidis, had converted.
ISIS attacks have displaced Yazidis, Muslims who do not pledge allegiance to the ISIS caliphate, Kurds and, lately, people who have fled Al Anbar Province, the ministry director said. Among Muslims, nine of every10 the ministry encounters will listen with interest, he said.
"In one way or another," he said, "we have served about 35,000 people with food and clothes, blankets and heaters, the mobile medical clinic, one-to-one evangelism, speaking to a group of people, praying with them, giving them Bibles and literature or inviting them to church."