EDITOR’S NOTE: The following account came straight from a humanitarian aid worker in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, who distributed shoes on Sept. 26, 2015 on behalf of Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® to Yazidi refugees fleeing forces aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In August 2014, ISIS launched an attack on the Yazidis in Sinjar province. Militants quickly conquered the region, which triggered an exodus as thousands of people fled their homes in search of refuge, in addition to nearly 3,000 deaths and 5,000 kidnappings of women and children. The missionary, who will remain anonymous for security reasons, has served in Iraq for 16 years. The editor filled in contextual information from CNN and the Washington Post to help the reader understand the gravity of the distribution in the region.
We went to bed early because we had to be ready by 5 a.m. Our contact came and picked us up at 5:30 and we headed to Mount Sinjar. It took nearly a day to get to this very dangerous and fragile region.
Mount Sinjar has become a prison for almost 40,000 civilians who fled to its barren peaks to escape ISIS fighters, who seized the surrounding area during the attacks. Between 10,000 and 40,000 ethnic Yazidis have been trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. The 4,400 foot high Sinjar range is esteemed by the Yazidis. They consider it to be the place where Noah's Ark settled after the biblical flood. The range is a barren ridge, four miles wide and 25 miles long. It is entirely devoid of plant life, water or shade (Washington Post, 2014).
We drove past a small, one-room house. They said a woman about 80 years old, lived there. ISIS burned her. The house was left just as it was. It was heartbreaking.
More than a year after the ISIS attack, Yazidi activists say there are still more than 3,000 Yazidi women being held in ISIS captivity. Many of the survivors have taken shelter in crowded refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, knowing thousands of their female relatives are being held captive in modern-day slavery (CNN, 2015).
After fleeing the attacks, thousands of families were without food, water, clothing and shelter. Refugee camps do the best they can but they’re crowded. To say the distribution from Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® and Texas Baptist Men was a God-send would be an understatement.
I still tear up when I think about the older man who came up to me during a distribution. “Please do not forget us,” he said. “They have taken our women and children. We do not have much food, water or supplies. We still need help. Please tell the people we need help.” He was older, rugged and tattered, wearing worn-out shoes. He wanted one thing, not for himself, but for his people: “Please do not forget.”
The total distribution consisted of more than 6,700 new pairs of shoes for men, women and children; summer and winter clothes; and diapers.
We distributed the items in refugee camps where I have a relationship with the workers. The first place had more than 1,500 families. It really got my attention.
There were families, some with as many as 13 children in them. What I noticed about this first distribution was how dirty the children were. They were unusually dirty. I asked, “Why?” They said there was no water in the area. The Yazidis have the reputation of not bathing but this was not normal.
Then, we went to visit the local military commander. He was very happy we were there to help their people. We did a distribution there at his base, a holy place. On the hillside, I read in English, “HELP US.” I thought it was an incredible moment when I realized we were there to do just that – help them.
Our distribution at the top of Mount Sinjar was later in the day. When we arrived, we met the commander. As we pulled out the boxes, I saw an Interstate Batteries box filled with black cotton T-shirts. The logo said, “Best battery in the world.” For me, it was a sweet moment of “home.” I know those people. It was a cool reminder that I was not alone on top of that historic mountain. My friends were praying for me. God was with me.
Just then, I heard a big BOOM! I heard planes over my head and saw them. I looked down the mountain at Sinjar city, right where the airstrikes hit. There were four in all. They had a target and they hit it.
I asked if the people were scared. They said no – and they asked me if I saw the people on top pointing down the mountain? I said yes. They were pointing to tell the planes where to strike.
We headed back to the military base where we spent the night. They had a big room office for our team. I don’t think I got much sleep that night. I heard wild dogs barking all night and some of the men next door talking loudly. We were all pretty tired.
When I got up the next morning, I prayed a lot. We had our breakfast and left again to finish up the distributions.
This was one of the most incredible distributions we have had. It was not without issues – we had lots of them. I felt like there was major warfare going on. Someone was not happy we were there.
All in all, thousands of children have new shoes that will last a while. They have had a touch, a blessing from thousands of (Christians) who gave, not knowing who would get their shoes but gave because they love Him.
I am so thankful I had the opportunity to give these shoes to “the least of these.” I have been to a lot of places and have done a lot of distributions but this one was one of the most memorable ones I have participated in.
Without my prayer support back home, I would not have endured it so well. I had such peace, even during the airstrikes. That peace only comes from God. I am so grateful to all who participated with me, even though they were not physically there, I knew they were lifting me up and the situation up in prayer.
I am forever grateful to Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® – you will never know how you touched so many children’s lives by the gifts you gave. You have heard about ISIS, what they have done to so many women and children.