Originally published in Christianity Today
Walking the streets of Irbil, Johnnie Moore was struck by what he saw.
“Christians were everywhere: on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in canvas tents that are not water-proof or winterized,” the former Liberty University chaplain and spokesman wrote of his visit last week to Iraqi Kurdistan. “Having survived eradication by terror groups, they now might die naturally from the coming harsh winter.”
Moore, who now serves as chief of staff for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, announced yesterday that the powerhouse TV Christian couple are raising $25 million to partner with a Muslim king and help Iraqi and Syrian Christians (as well as other minorities) displaced by ISIS survive the coming winter.
“Having fled their home with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and having seen unspeakable things, these brothers and sisters in Christ are severely traumatized, mostly without shelter,” wrote Moore.
“Things are very urgent. We have to move fast,” he continued. “Winter is coming. This week’s rain will soon be snow.”
Their “Cradle of Christianity Fund” is being administered by the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), a leader on international religious freedom issues which primarily works in east Asia.
“To lose the presence of Christians in the birthplace of Christianity is to accelerate instability, while losing precious insight about how best to work in the region,” wrote IGE director Chris Seiple in announcing the initiative. “With the region on the brink, a strategy to rescue, restore, and return fleeing Christians is not only the right thing to do, it is in everyone’s interest to do so.”
As part of their “needs assessment” of displaced Christians, Seiple and Moore were invited to meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan and the patriarchs of the historic Eastern churches in the region. Abdullah “has been outspoken on the need to keep Christians in the region as integral to a Middle Eastern identity,” wrote Seiple. “We agreed to work together, in support of the Ancient Churches, in this time.”
“Donations will go through the churches directly to those who need it the most, and primarily through the Ancient Churches,” explained Moore. “They know their communities best, where they are and their needs. We will also work to identify and vet other partners as we go.”
The first phase of the IGE and Burnett-Downey “Rescue, Restore, and Return” plan is as follows:
During the Rescue phase of this plan, The Cradle of Christianity Fund will work primarily with the Ancient Churches to: (1) inject a cash infusion to select Iraqi and Syrian churches because they know their communities best and can identity which families are in greatest need; and, (2) provide winterized, waterproof shelter. Also, we will simultaneously begin our Restore phase, using a small amount of money to establish a “Documentation of Truth” center to record the atrocities committed against Christians, and others, over the last several months while also recording stories of hope, courage, and partnership between Christians and those Muslims who love peace and tried to protect their neighbors.
Burnett and Downey “wanted to do something for religious freedom—now—focused on the plight of Christians, but serving people of all faiths/none,” Seiple explained. “They were also acutely aware of how complex this region and issues are. We agreed to partner together, and that whatever we did, we would act in a manner that: 1) honored God; 2) was multi-faith/non-proselytizing; and, 3) was at the invitation of regional leaders.”
While I had been to the region many times—our Center for Women, Faith and Leadership, for example, grew out of our partnership with an all-women’s college in Hama, Syria — I never fully appreciated the practical role that Christians play in the Middle East. In general, their millennia presence, through their example of loving all neighbors, contributes to the spiritual and social well-being of societies across the Middle East (not least through well-educated leaders in government and the academy, serving all citizens). As such, they are a bridge between and among different faiths, and traditions within those faiths. Such action, if allowed to flourish, strengthens society by preventing stereotypes that might be manipulated by terrorists; indeed, loving neighbor enhances the stability of the state. Equally important, though, Christians in the Middle East serve as a bridge back to Christian-majority countries, helping people like me to better understand their region, and how best to come alongside the people who live there, in support of their solutions.
That hope is taking tangible form through the leadership of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The King has repeatedly stated in public that Christians are integral to the identity, well-being, and stability of Jordan, and the region (which means a great deal, given that the King is recognized as a direct descendant of Mohammed). His leadership is showing us how to get help to the right people, immediately. He and Prince Ghazi (the King’s personal envoy and advisor for religious and cultural affairs), are also helping us vet and hold our partners accountable. Jordan has also now taken in more than 4000 Christians themselves, housing them in church communities.