Ministering to the Internally Displaced and Refugees from Iraq

Apr 09, 2003 03:17 PM EDT

RUWEISHED, Jordan – With signs of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraqis take to streets celebrating, welcoming U.S. troops, looting while Marines help crowds topple the statue of Saddam. Humanitarian and Christian Aid agencies believe now is the most urgent time to reach out the Iraqis.

“We think it is vital for God's people to help with these helping ministries and not just leave it for secular agencies," says John Brady, who coordinates the work of the International Mission Board in the Middle East and North Africa. "Surely God wants to be in the midst of helping these people. That means we as His body, His people must be in the midst of helping these people."

The International Mission Board was among the many ministries that helped the United Nations in setting up tents for refugees from Iraq. Though those tents stood empty, the second camp set up for refugees from other countries who have fled the fighting in Iraq stood filled with hundreds of refugees.

Most refugees in the tent are from Somalia and Sudan, with some others from Egypt and the Palestinian areas who had fled war and poverty in their own countries and sought their fortune in Iraq. But war forced them to flee for their lives leaving them with little hope.

Charles Browning, a 20-year veteran of work in Jordan said he and others have stockpiled clothes, diapers, milk, formula and other supplies for babies. They also take time to talk with the people.

"What I have found in this camp is that a lot of times people just want to come up and talk. And we're able to just sit and talk with them," he says. "That's part of the Gospel of Christ -- meeting the spiritual needs as well as the physical needs.

"If you tell somebody 'Go in peace' and 'God loves you,' but you don't feed them or clothe them, then really, what does that mean to them? They just say, 'Oh, they don't care for us!'" he explains. "So by helping these areas, it starts a basis for sharing the complete Gospel to them and what we believers are about. And that is the whole person and not just one part of a specific individual."

Now, with the war drawing to an end, the agencies prepare to embrace the needs of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis. Nobody knows if or when more refugees might appear at the border, as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis did during the Gulf War more than a decade ago. Browning thinks it is possible big numbers of refugees might yet come.

A group of men from Sudan stand around, talking in an open area. They had fled the war in Sudan and went to work in Iraq, where they could at least work and make money. But when the war broke out, they fled to Jordan with nothing.

"Where will you go?" one man who speaks English is asked. "I don't know," he says sadly.

By Pauline J.