Since ISIS swept into northern Iraq in 2014, tens of thousands of people have been killed, and over two million internally displaced.
The Islamic state first attacked their fellow Muslims, the Iraqi majority Shiite population. Then they virtually destroyed the Yazidi civilization, a sect founded in the 12th century that practices a blend of Zoroastrian, Muslim, and Christian rituals. An estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Yazidis have been killed or displaced.
ISIS also attacked the minority Turkmen, a Turkic-speaking, traditionally nomadic people. They have wreaked destruction on the minority Christian community that dates its founding back to the Apostle Thomas in the 1st Century. Only ten years ago Iraq had about 300 registered churches and 1.4 million people who identified as Christians. Today only ten percent of that Christian population is left in Iraq. Mosul, once the center of Christianity in the nation, has zero Christians now. (See ISIS “deChristianizes” Mosul: Is the West Next?)
The two million refugees in Iraq include 650,000 children aged 6 to 17. Many of these have watched hell unleashed in their communities and homes. They have witnessed the raping of their mothers and sisters and the murder of their parents. (Go here for updates on ISIS in Iraq.)
How might Christians in Iraq respond?
A group of Iraqi and American Christians have responded by creating a school for a thousand Yazidi and other refugee children. It is a school on the outskirts of hell.
What would it take to create such a school? A bold vision, certainly, as well as the virtues of courage, forgiveness, grace, love and personal sacrifice.
Where has such vision and virtue been found? In Iraqi Christian pastor Yousif Matty, and Servants Group International from Nashville, Tennessee.
Pastor Matty founded the Kirkuk Evangelical Church. He was the visionary leader who invited Iraqi church leaders to come together following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Several hundred of them did just that. Some were pastors and leaders of churches that dated back to the Apostle Thomas. Others led evangelical and charismatic churches just a few years old. Such a remarkable gathering is seldom seen in today’s Middle East.
Now Pastor Matty’s visionary leadership has brought together leaders from the persecuted Yazidis, Kurdish, Christian, and Shiite Muslim communities on behalf of the children. They have established the Shivana (Shepherd) Medes School to serve refugee children who have escaped, for now at least, the personification of evil we know as ISIS.
To Kurdish officials Matty said, “As Christians we want to cooperate with Muslims. We want to live with you, not at the edge of life, we want to be at the heart of Kurdistan. We don’t want to be lazy, we want to work for the good of the community.”
At the dedication of the school, Matty said to the gathered students, faculty and local officials: “The soldiers fight with guns, but you are fighting with pens and with your mind.”
Visionary partners from Servant Group International are working with Pastor Matty. Servant Group International (SGI) “seeks to serve Muslims by bringing the love and hope of Christ.” One way they do this is by starting classical schools with Iraqi partners. Their first endeavor was Medes School in Sulymania, Kurdistan, northern Iraq.
As stated on their web page, “Because the Kurds consider themselves modern-day descendants of the ancient Medes, these schools are known as the ‘Classical Schools of the Medes.’”
The positive track record of the three other classical schools started by Matty and SGI encouraged them to launch the Medes Shepherd School in view of the tremendous needs of the refugee community in northern Iraq. About 1,000 children attend the Medes Shepherd School.
There’s plenty of bad news from Iraq, but this good news was delivered by our dear friend Mindy Belz and the team at World Magazine. For more on this story, see the Belz article “In the Shadow of ISIS” in World Magazine.
Every year World Magazine gives the Hope Award – For Effective Compassion” for replicable programs of compassion run by Christians. This year the International – Hope Award went to the Shivani Medes School. Thank you Mindy and World Magazine for drawing the world attention to this compassionate response of Christians to the evil of ISIS.
Want to teach in one of these schools? Interested in supporting SGI through your gifts? Go here to inquire further.
- Darrow Miller