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- American FRRME | Remembrance Event
Displays of Hope, Help, and Healing from the August 6th Remembrance Event at the Olive Tree Center by Keely Jahns August 25, 2022 HOPE, HEALTH & HEALING On August 6th, 2022, the American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation (American FRRME) hosted a remembrance event with the Iraqi Christian community at the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan, to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the 2014 ISIS insurgency in Iraq. They gathered to sing, pray, and remember the day that changed their lives forever. Their expressions of joy and perseverance were in direct contrast to the terrorists that attempted to destroy their hope eight years before. Join us as we revisit some of the highlights of this night, with special selections from some of the music and poetry that was shared at the event. The youth at OTC gathered to sing this moving song from the Iraqi homeland: Bless My Country an Iraqi Hymn No matter what the situation is, you will be able to open the seas, no matter how dark the earth is, the sky is full of light. As Nehemiah came to you with tears and called for you, We are all coming to scream, O Jesus stretch out your hands. Bless my country, bless my country, O hearer of prayer in the hearts of all human beings. Bless my country, bless my country, turn to the cry of our hearts and send us rain. Your Holy Spirit gathers bones from every valley, Long live, speak, bow down to you, confess your name, O redeemer. On the cross I cast my sins away, the sins of my fathers and my children, O merciful heart, forgive and listen to the groans of my country. Bless my country, bless my country, turn to the cry of our hearts and send us rain. Your Holy Spirit gathers bones from every valley, Long live, speak, bow down to you, confess your name, O redeemer. On the cross I cast my sins away, the sins of my fathers and my children, O merciful heart, forgive and listen to the groans of my country. Bless my country, bless my country, O hearer of prayer in the hearts of all human beings. Bless my country, bless my country, turn to the cry of our hearts and send us rain. Fada and Karmen from the Hope Group read a joint poem about their experiences leaving their home as refugees. Poem by Fada and Karmen – “My Emigration from my Country” When I emigrated from my country, a day that history will always remember. When I left my town with teardrops in my eyes, I looked up to the sky with a broken heart. I asked God at that moment, is this a dream or the reality? What is happening to us? How shall I leave my country, my memories, and the place I grew up? The birds above the trees sing and say: “Why is this country so quiet?” Elders, women, youth, and kids wondering why is this happening? On those nights, eyes couldn’t fall asleep and the enemy lives in my town, the town that was built by my brother, father, and Grandfather. Only God can heal the pain of our deep wounds, giving us patience, faith, and love to endure the pain of leaving our beloved country. Oh, my country, my country…The day I emigrated. The youth gathered to perform a contemporary worship song in English. 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) a contemporary worship song by Matt Redman, performed by the children at the Olive Tree Center Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His holy Name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship Your holy Name. The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning; It’s time to sing Your song again. Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, Let me be singing when the evening comes. Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His holy Name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship Your holy Name. You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger, Your Name is great and Your heart is kind; For all Your goodness I will keep on singing, Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find. Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His holy Name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship Your holy Name. And on that day when my strength is failing, The end draws near and my time has come; Still my soul sings Your praise unending, Ten thousand years and then forevermore. Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His holy Name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship Your holy Name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His holy Name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship Your holy Name. Joy in the Face of Adversity Philippians 4:4 – 5 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.“ The refugees at OTC presented their stories, their songs, and their art with joy and resilience that is a true testament to hope that never fades. Their creativity and perseverance is in opposition to those who once tried to take it away. American FRRME’s Mission of Hope, Help, and Healing American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (American FRRME) is a U.S.-based Christian charity that aims to bring hope, help and healing in the Middle East, assisting Iraqi Christian refugees and other religious minorities. American FRRME works to support the ongoing needs of Iraqis – primarily Christian Iraqis – who fled Iraq and Kurdistan during the ISIS insurgency in 2014. The organization supports those displaced within Iraq many of whom remain living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in Baghdad and northern Iraq, as well as supporting those who fled to neighboring Jordan. Working in partnership with churches in Iraq and Jordan, American FRRME is on the ground, providing food, clothing, education and more. In 2019 we established the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan. The center provides a safe and accessible place for Iraqi refugees to gather together and celebrate their culture together. Crucially, the center provides education and therapeutic activities including English classes, sewing, art and music, along with a mosaic and wood workshop and fresh produce garden.
- American FRRME | Meet Sahar
Meet Sahar Sahar (names have been changed) is a 35-year-old refugee mother of four. Originally from Qaraqosh (in Northern Iraq) Sahar and her family left Qaraqosh in the middle of the night on August 8th, 2014 when ISIS arrived. Fortunately, they safely made it to the “Ayshtaytoo” refugee camp in Erbil, the capital city of Iraq. Two days after arriving, Sahar gave birth to her youngest son. In Ayshtaytoo the family of 6 shared a tiny living space with another family, and there were 8 other families within their unit space. The refugee camp offered Tae Kwon Do classes for children and Sahar’s 9-year-old son loved attending the classes. Sahar noticed that the class instructor frequently complimented her children. One day, when her son refused to attend the class, Sahar found out the instructor had molested him. Sahar’s son suffered severe trauma from this, including pain and nightmares. Sahar’s family no longer felt safe in the refugee camp. They borrowed money to move to Jordan where they could live safely. In Madaba, Jordan, where they live now, Sahar’s family is able to live without fear, yet they still face daily struggles. While they have support from American FRRME and their local church, they still struggle to pay rent and their children’s school tuition. Despite the many hardships, they are extremely grateful that they are safely together. And without the support of American FRRME Sahar’s family and families like them would have no means of support. American FRRME is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes reconciliation, provides relief efforts, advances human rights, and seeks an end to sectarian violence in the Middle East.
- American FRRME | Thomas
Thomas the Apostle and the Christians of Nineveh By Keely Jahns Published On July 1, 2022 July 3rd is the Feast Day of the Apostle Thomas, a very significant figure to the Christians of the Nineveh Plain. His journey across the Middle East led him to evangelize communities in Northern India. Founding churches across his route, he went through the areas now called Iran and Iraq. His finger bones were discovered at the Church of St. Thomas in Mosul, during renovation work in 1964. Indeed, the history of Christianity in Iraq spans two millennia, with some of the oldest Churches on the planet, dating back to the life and ministry of a man who knew Jesus in the flesh. Thomas the Apostle, also known as Didymus (“twin”), was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. Thomas is commonly known as “Doubting Thomas” because he initially doubted the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he was told of it (as is related in the Gospel of John); he later confessed his faith (“My Lord and my God”) on seeing the wounds left over from the crucifixion. According to tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle traveled across the Middle East in the 1st Century AD, speaking in the language of Jesus, as he would have as a man from the region in which Jesus lived. We remember back to John 20:29, in which “doubting Thomas,” placed his hands in the scars of the resurrected Jesus for proof that it was really him: “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” The one who saw and believed, carried the Gospel to a people who had not seen Christ in the flesh, and yet still believed. He made it to Northern Iraq, into the historical kingdom known as Mesopotamia – the descendants of the ancient city of Nineveh, who collectively repented at the preaching of the Prophet Jonah hundreds of years prior. Their hearts were ready to embrace the gospel, and they were among the first people outside of 1st Century Judea to do so. Traditionally, Assyrian Christians see themselves as belonging to the people that once ruled one of the greatest empires of the Middle East, which repented at the preaching of Jonah. According to this tradition, the Assyrians survived under the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, as well as in small kingdoms of their own like Osrhoene in northern Mesopotamia. The Lord’s heart has always been for the people of the Nineveh Plain, as it is for all peoples in the world, that they may know Him. But even in this, the people of the Nineveh Plain have the distinction of having descended from a people mentioned in the Old Testament. In the book of Jonah, the Lord had great compassion for the people of the city, despite being Gentiles prior to the establishment of the New Covenant. He loved these people and wanted to show them mercy, and sent Jonah to minister to them. And when Jonah showed partiality and became angry that the Lord would save them; the Lord offered him a lesson about His compassion and desire for all to know Him: Jonah 4:11: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” Woven into the fabric of biblical history, is a beautiful and surprising narrative about Nineveh – a people called to worship their Creator, even prior to the time of Christ. God always had them in His plan, as history unfolded around them, as He has plans for all of us. As Jesus tells us in John 15, all in Him are branches of His vine: John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” The acceptance of Christ by the people of the Nineveh Plain is a beautiful illustration of God’s plan to bring all tribes and nations unto Him. The people of the Nineveh Plain – the Assyrians – were among the first Gentiles to ever come to Christ. Assyrians therefore consider themselves to be the first Gentile Christian nation. Indeed, Iraqi Christians represent the oldest continuous body of Christians in the world, and have a spiritual and physical lineage that spans back to the first Christians, who were considered the “wild branches,” grafted onto God’s plan, adopted into His family; a radical inclusionary concept to the people of their day. Romans 11:24: “For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.” They have been called variously (and in different historical times) Assyrian Christians, Nasranis and also Chaldeans, and are still practicing their faith after 2,000 years. The Christians of Iraq, both Orthodox and Catholic – have a very long and rich history, but hundreds of thousands of them have fled war and persecution in their homeland, even into the present day. Over 100,000 families in Northern Iraq and Kurdistan were forced to flee their homes during the 2014 ISIS insurgency. Life is not easy for Iraqi Christians, but we can all learn lessons of resiliency from their persistent faith. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the refugees that emerge from persecution of Christians and other religious minority groups across Iraq and the Middle East. American FRRME is committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East.
- American FRRME | Respects to General David E. Greer
Please Join Us On Facebook Live To Pay Respects To General David E. Greer By Alice Seeley Published On October 26, 2022 American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East invites you to join us on Facebook Live to pay our respects to our former Executive Director, Brigadier General David E. Greer. General Greer passed away on July 30th, 2020 in Santa Cruz, California. He was 69 years old. A native of Memphis, David graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery Corps. He served on active duty and in the Tennessee Army National Guard for 36 years, retiring in 2008 as a Brigadier General. After retiring from the Armed Forces, General Greer worked for the State Department with the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team. It was there that he met and married his wife and best friend, Susan. In 2011, the Greers moved back to Maine and retired, but David’s work was not over. In 2012, he was asked to use his talents to head American FRRME, and he served as Executive Director until his death. General Greer is survived by his wife, Susan; his daughter, Kathryn Greer Harvey (Chad); grandson, Caleb; and stepson, Richard Depolo. A memorial service will take place on Thursday, October 29, 2020, 3:30 pm PST, at Central California Coast Veterans’ Cemetery in Seaside, California. The service will be led by Steven Lefever, Lay Minister of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ben Lomond, California.
- American FRRME | New Catholic Church
New Catholic Church and University Bringing Hope, Help, and Healing to Christians in Erbil By Keely Jahns Published On February 24, 2022 “Christians in Iraq will not become a museum exhibit for religious tourists to come and view.” – Father Benedict Kiely It was August 2014. Erbil and the roads out of Northern Iraq were filled with hundreds of thousands of Christians living in encampments on roadsides, in shells of buildings and churches. Many stayed in church gardens and cemeteries, with 3nowhere else to go as they fled the ISIS insurgency, often searching for loved ones who had gone missing in the chaos. The camps were filled with those who fled their indigenous lands on the Nineveh Plain. It was and is the seat of the most ancient practicing Christians in the world, with the first congregations said to have been established there by Saint Thomas himself. A region with a direct connection to the events of the New Testament, some of the remains of the disciple were kept in a shrine in Mosul, until the insurgency in 2014. ISIS fighters had been closing in on small villages across Northern Iraq. For weeks leading up to this, the terror group insisted that Christians in the regions of which they gained control would be guarenteed relative safety as “people of the book,” a special designation within Islam for both Christians and Jews. This would afford them a legal status called “dhimmi,” which would require them to pay a special tax called “jizya” in exchange for protection, much like paying tribute to a mob boss. While not ideal, it seemed that native Christians might have been able to survive, even in the face of an attack on their homeland. However, as the insurgency closed in, it became clear that the terrorists had no intention of sparing Christians, or any groups they deemed as “other.” There was an active slaughterings of villages, forced conversions, rapes, and extortion. The assets of Christian families were frequently seized. Cities and villages were emptied and looted, and ancient churches were burned, their relics often destroyed. Surviving Christians in occupied territories had their homes and businesses marked with the Arabic letter nun or “ن” (Latin equivalent “n”) a shorthand for the Arabic translation of the word “Nazarene,” (a name which was originally adopted by the first Christians in the Roman Empire) which is now pejorative for Christians in these regions, considered to be a symbol of Islamic animosity toward Christians. The marking of homes with this symbol was almost always a precursor to extermination. In the early morning hours of August the 6th, 2014, ISIS moved into the Nineveh Plain, in a wave of violence, horror, and chaos. Christians living on the Nineveh Plain were given three choices: convert, flee, or die. Many woke in the dead of night and fled on foot with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Stavro, an active participant in activities at AFFRME’s Olive Tree Center ; who fled with his family at the age of 6, recalls an early memory of his escape: “A part of us died that day. We had to flee our city overnight, because if we stayed, we would have starved or died. We walked many miles to get away, with so many dead people, burned houses, and bodies. We asked our parents when we could return to our joys, our schools, and normal life, but we had no answer. We didn’t know how we would survive, but we believed God was with us.” Since the Caliphate was defeated, some Christians have been slowly returning, but have found it difficult to reestablish their lives. Only around 50% of those displaced have returned to the historically Christian towns on the Nineveh Plain. It has proven difficult to rebuild many areas that have had their businesses decimated and their agricultural industries greatly disrupted by the ISIS insurgent’s blatant destruction of farmland and equipment. Centuries old groves were laid to waste, such as the olive tree farm that AFFRME has helped to reestablish for survivors in Bashiqa. As we have investigated previously, the Iraqi government affords few rights to those returning, and to those who have stayed. They struggle to be seen and heard in their country’s political processes and are often shut out of public political office , with few of their votes counted. The government in Northern Iraq is increasingly unstable after last year’s contested election. Even more concerning yet, is the growing presence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Iran now describes the entirety of the Nineveh plain a “disputed territory,” in an attempt to influence a power vacuum left after the defeat of ISIS and by decade-long civil war in neighboring Syria. Both Iraqi government forces and Kurdish authorities claim authority in Northern Iraq. Turkish forces, backed by Iran, are launching bombing campaigns into historically Christian areas of Kurdistan. And now, even nominally Christian militias are finding themselves under the control of Iranian-run militia cells. While it is true that, at the moment, Christians are not being killed for their faith in Iraq, persecution is now, according to Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, a “systematic persecution,” or, in the words of another priest on the Nineveh Plain, a “silent persecution.” Everyone is feeling the pressure from these Shiite separatist groups. Even the historically Christian town of Bartella has had its main street renamed for “martyrs,” of the Islamic Shiite militia in an attempt to change the town’s Christian heritage. A massive billboard was placed in town that showed these “martyrs” alongside a picture of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, who created Iran’s oppressive Islamic theocracy. Because of this threatening atmosphere, fewer than 1/3rd of 3,800 Christian families have returned to Bartella. Archbishop Warda described life for Christians as “second or third class citizens,” with no rights under the Iraqi constitution. He also warned that, in times of political instability in Iraq, like the present chaos following the contested elections, it is always the religious minorities, particularly Christians and Yazidis, who suffer. Yet, Christians in Erbil cling to hope for a brighter future. Just two years ago, a new college, Catholic University, was constructed in the suburb of Ankawa. This will provide education and employment opportunities for the people of Erbil, a higher visibility for Christians in the area, and a firm statement that they are there to stay. A Catholic church is also under construction in the Christian quarter of Erbil. Despite not yet having pews or a fixed altar, the first Masses were to be celebrated there at Christmas. In the words of Father Benedict Kiely: “[Despite] the struggles and dangers, there are signs of hope for the future, and positive developments, which [means] that Christians in Iraq will not become a museum exhibit for religious tourists to come and view. Even though the number of Christians is greatly diminished, there is now a core group, including many young people, who want to stay and make a future in their native land.” America FRRME supports educational and occupational opportunities across Iraq, specifically for those who remain in and are returning to the Nineveh Plain, through our Nineveh SEED program . We also support healthcare and educational opportunities for Iraqis of all walks of life through St. George’s Anglican Church and Clinic in Baghdad. We stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters across the Middle East and are an organization that is committed to helping Christians and other minority groups across denominational lines. We are committed to helping Iraqi Christians and Yazidis return to their homeland and rebuild their lives, while providing them with the resources for hope, help and healing. Sadly, only around 50% of the Christians displaced by the ISIS insurgency in 2014 have returned. For the 50% that remain scattered in places like Jordan, we also are committed to providing hope, help, and healing. Our programs in Jordan, particularly at the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, are aimed at lifting refugees from poverty and providing them with opportunities to learn trades and find inner healing so that they can have bright futures wherever they choose to go in the world. While the refugees at the Olive Tree Center are by law not allowed to work, they are still being taught meaningful and pertinent skills for future careers in everything from carpentry to cosmetology. Will you continue supporting our brothers and sisters in Iraq and the Middle East? Every donation goes toward rebuilding lives and reigniting hope in those who have lost everything. Please pray for the people of Iraq, particularly those who have returned to build their lives in the face of continuing hostilities against the Body of Christ. Please pray for the programs that America FRRME and our partners are initiating in the region, that they will provide refugees with opportunities to thrive, as well as for the ongoing safety of our partners across the region. Finally, please pray for the people being served at the Olive Tree Center, that they will find hope, help and healing within its walls.
- American FRRME | Archaeological Finding
Adapted from a story at All Arab News Christianity has been indigenous to Iraq for thousands of years. Many of the first Christians hailed from the region which is now Iraq, particularly the Nineveh Plain. The Nineveh Plain was one of the stops of the Apostle Thomas on his mission to evangelize the world, in which he eventually carried the Gospel to India. Historically, the Christians of Iraq are considered to be the descendants of some of the first gentile converts to Christianity, in a long, unbroken lineage that still closely resembles the 1st century Church in worship and tradition. Despite this storied history, however, various attempts by empires and sectarian terrorists to destroy the indigenous populations of Northern Iraq – from the Ottomans to ISIS – have resulted in genocides for the Christians, Yazidis, and Shabak native to this region. The most impactful instance in recent memory was August 2014, when the ISIS insurgency pushed across the region, and terrorists kidnapped and slaughtered families, trafficked women and girls, destroyed towns, and demolished ancient churches and the priceless relics they housed. This region – still reeling from the recent Iraq war – was shaken, and its people were largely displaced. Mosul was formerly an ISIS stronghold, especially during its short-lived “caliphate” led by the “first caliph” of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Despite ongoing security risks in the region, Mosul is now free from the oppression of ISIS, and Christians are able to freely worship here again. Since then, the towns of Northern Iraq and the Nineveh Plain have been rebuilding. Most Christians displaced in the fighting have not returned, but life is slowly beginning to emerge again, to a similar pace that it was before the decade and a half of war that transpired here. In this return to life, many programs have begun reaching out to those who were impacted by ISIS, such as Catholic University in Erbil . During this time, churches have begun rebuilding and repairing the damage done by the insurgents, including the Church of Saint Thomas in Mosul. While doing so, parishioners uncovered several relics that attest to the cultural historicity of Iraqi Christianity. Earlier this month, around a dozen ancient relics and parchments belonging to Christian saints were uncovered inside the church. The restoration project is part of the Mosul Mosaic initiative , which aims to preserve Mosul’s cultural heritage. The project began in December 2020, after the Iraqi Army cleared the site from mines and other explosive remnants of war. The project is being overseen by the French organization, l’Oeuvre d’Orient, in coordination with the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) of Nineveh and the French Institut National du Patrimoine. The archaeological findings confirm the strong connection between Christianity and Iraq in ancient times. Several relics were found that have enormous significance to Iraqi Christians, and Christians around the world. Six stone containers with Aramaic inscriptions of saints, and several manuscripts in Syriac and Aramaic languages were found inside the Syrian Orthodox Church of Mar Thomas (The Church of Saint Thomas) in Mosul. The church is believed to have been built in the 7th century A.D. on the site where the house of Jesus’ Apostle Thomas lived during his stay in Mosul, according to Christian tradition. During the 1960s, remains were found during another church restoration that are believed to be the finger bones of St. Thomas himself. The original church was destroyed during the Persian siege of Mosul – which was then part of the Ottoman Empire – in the 18th century and rebuilt by the 18th-century governor of Mosul, as a sign of gratitude toward the city’s Christian defenders. One of the inscriptions found by the workers in the church related to Saint Theodore, a Roman soldier born in the province of Corum, Turkey, in the 3rd century, who was beheaded after converting to Christianity. According to Asia News, “at the conclusion of the excavations, five more reliquaries were collected: of Saint Simon ‘the Zealot,’ a first-century apostle; relics of Mor Gabriel, bishop of Tur Abdin (593-668); relics of Saint Simeon the Wise (1st century), an elder who welcomed the infant Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem; relics of Saint John, (Yohanan Shliha) apostle of Christ; relics of Saint Gregory Bar Hebraeus (1226-1286), Maphrien (regional primate) of the Syrian Orthodox Church from 1264 to 1286.” In addition, parchments written in Syriac, Armenian and Arabic – wrapped and protected in glass bottles – were also discovered in the ruins of the church. During its reign of terror in the years following the fall of Mosul in 2014, ISIS left Mosul in ruins and forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Nineveh province surrounding Mosul to flee. It is estimated that ISIS destroyed at least 14 churches in the Nineveh province alone during its onslaught on Christians and Christian culture and that it plundered and destroyed – frequently by simply blowing up – at least 28 historical religious buildings in Iraq in 2014 and 2015 alone. Those buildings not only included churches but also “mosques, graves, shrines, churches and monasteries of historic character,” Iraqi deputy minister of Iraq said at the time. The destruction by the members of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was not limited to Christian artifacts. In 2014 and 2015, videos emerged that showed ISIS terrorists destroying ancient artifacts from multiple ancient civilizations with sledgehammers and jackhammers inside the Mosul Museum. Many of the artifacts were irreplaceable originals. American FRRME is deeply committed to protecting Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities across the region. We champion any attempt to celebrate the role of the church in Iraqi culture, and the attempts to rebuild and repair the destruction caused by terrorists. We are committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and IDPs in the region. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing persecution across the Middle East.
- American FRRME | Meet Leka and Ashwaq
Meet Leka and Ashwaq By Alice Seeley Published On March 30, 2021 In 2014, sisters Leka and Ashwaq fled to Jordan from Qaraqosh when ISIS invaded. Leka has 3 sons and a daughter, Ban. She was only a few weeks pregnant at the time with her youngest son, Androus “Nando.” Nando only knows life as a refugee. Ashwaq, Leka’s younger sister, has 3 kids, Cassandra, Clara, and Stavro, who are all active members of the Olive Tree Center in Jordan. For these sisters, it is vital that they are able to preserve their culture and educate their kids on what it means to be Iraqi. For both Leka and Ashwaq, their faith is what got them through the most difficult times, and continues to get them through the difficult circumstances they face every day. As religious minorities, they are not provided for by the Jordanian government and rely on the support of churches and organizations such as American FRRME. When asked what the Olive Tree Center means to them Ashwaq said, “This center gives us a safe space for our children to be free from worry, it allows them to be children for once and to be able to take their minds off of the daily struggles that living as a refugee comes with and to see them be able to learn English, and guitar, music, and art, it makes me so happy and feel God’s blessing in this center.” Ashwaq and Leka helped with the founding of the Olive Tree Center and now lead outreach initiatives at the Center, such as baking and distributing cookies and other goods to other struggling refugees and members of the community. Leka also led the mask-making initiative to help other refugees and community members attend church! She is very enthusiastic about her work. “American FRRME provided me with the tools to do something I love- sew! I loved being able to help the community during this difficult time of COVID,” she said. “It gave me energy and encouraged me to not lose hope when we were stuck at home. This kept me going. It is a blessing to be able to help others from the community, it fills our hearts with joy when we can help others as we’ve been helped. Thank you American FRRME, thank you and God bless you and all who support us. We will always remember you.” American FRRME is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes reconciliation, provides relief efforts, advances human rights, and seeks an end to sectarian violence in the Middle East.
- American FRRME | Christian Villages Emptied
Christian Villages Emptied Once Again By Keely Jahns Published On December 6, 2021 Iraqi Christians are under siege once again. Christian villages across Kurdistan are bracing for bombardment. On November 6th, 2021, Turkish bombs fell over the town of Father Samir Youssef, an Iraqi priest who has seen wave after wave of violence hit his region. According to Samir, this is the first time in about a year that Christians in the surrounding towns have faced bombardment from Turkish forces. However, it isn’t the first time that Iraqi Christians had to flee their homes. In 2014, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians had to flee their homes in the nearby Nineveh Plain in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs, fearing for the safety of their friends and loved ones as they fled the onslaught of ISIS. Today, many remain scattered across the Middle East, in places like the Kingdom of Jordan, where they receive hope, help, and healing through initiatives by the American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (American FRRME) like the Olive Tree Center and its many programs. Programs include music and art therapy, tutoring, and even a new community gardening project in Fuheis. Many have also been able to return to Northern Iraq, where America FRRME has sponsored several apprenticeship programs and agricultural start-ups. A chicken farm and bakery in Qaraqosh are two examples of the programs that are helping to reestablish the lives of refugees as they return to Iraq. It is the aim of American FRRME’s efforts to help those returning to find stable work, learn new trades, and to provide hope for the future. However, this new threat of violence, as well as increasing cases of COVID-19, are making it difficult for Iraqi Christians and other minority groups to rebuild their hometowns. As of the 21st of November, many villages were emptied once again, just as they were seven years ago. According to Father Samir, today, “the fear is tangible.” Continuing on he noted the impact of Turkish attacks saying they “stopped tourism after a phase of recovery and made it difficult to cultivate fields or keep factories open, for fear of being hit.” Through American FRRME initiatives in Iraq, there is hope that despite threats of violence, we can help to rebuild this region. The Christians in Iraq need help now more than ever. Please join us in prayer for the Iraqi people, and consider supporting American FRRME’s initiatives to help these beautiful people rebuild their lives.
- American FRRME | We Mourn the Passing
We Mourn The Passing Of Executive Director Brigadier General David E Greer. By Alice Seeley Published On August 3, 2020 With great sadness, we announce the passing of our Executive Director, Brigadier General David E. Greer. General Greer passed away on Thursday, July 30th, 2020. He was 69 years old. A native of Memphis, Tennessee, General Greer graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1972 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery Corps. After active duty with the Second Armored Division at Ft. Hood, Texas, he transitioned to the United States Army Reserve, then to the Tennessee Army National Guard and served in various command and staff positions within the 30th Separate Armored Brigade, the 196th Field Artillery Brigade, and State Headquarters. He served as the Deputy Commanding General at the U.S. Army Field Artillery School in Fort Sill, OK, and culminated his career as the Land Component Commander of the Tennessee Army National Guard. He also served as President of the National Guard Association of Tennessee. He was the recipient of numerous major awards and decorations for invaluable service to his country over his 36-year military career. After retirement from the Armed Forces in 2008, General Greer worked for the State Department with the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team. He met his wife, Susan at a work conference; they were married in Baghdad in a security compound in 2009, while they were working for the US State Department there. In 2011, the Greers moved back to Maine and retired, but David’s work was not over. In 2012, he was asked to head American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East and served as Executive Director until his death. Retired U.S. Army Colonel John Busterud and others who served with General Greer on the American FRMME board, remember him as “the embodiment of a servant-leader.” Colonel Busterud continues “General Greer leaves a legacy of distinguished service to A-FRRME and to the marginalized Christians of the Middle East.” Former Ambassador Richard Swett remembers that he “not only made the trains run on time, he did it with class and consistency that made everyone feel secure that we could efficiently use all our resources for the important work at hand.” Swett adds “He was a gentleman of great character whom I and many others will dearly miss, although we will keep him close always in our hearts and minds.” Connie Wilson, founder of Global Capital Connections, describes General Greer as an “American patriot and friend of God. Throughout difficult times with our organization, David always was the pillar that didn’t falter, pouring out categoric wisdom that made sense and brought stability. He always had time for anyone who called upon him and came up with ideas for resolving issues with leadership – but no intimidation.” General Greer had a strong Christian faith and attended St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ben Lomond, California. At the time of his death, General Greer lived in Santa Cruz, California. He is survived by his wife Susan, daughter Kathryn Harvey, her husband Chad and their son Caleb, and stepson, Richard Depolo. We’re so grateful for General Greer’s years of service for American FRRME. Please join us in praying for General Greer’s family at this time.
- American FRRME | Reflections on Refugee Crisis
Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine: Reflections on the Global Refugee Crisis By Keely Jahns Published On March 31, 2022 As of March 30, 2022, 4 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine. Millions are internally displaced amidst gruesome fighting, and millions have fled the country into neighboring nations such as Lithuania, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, and Poland. The International Organization of Migration (UK) estimates that more than half of the people who are internally displaced are women, and many are deemed particularly vulnerable because they are pregnant, have a disability or are a victim of violence. As well as the 4 million people who have left their homes, about 12 million are thought to be stranded or unable to leave areas affected by the fighting. Some living in areas with ongoing fighting have been victims of enforced disappearances, such as what we saw occur in Mariupol at a civilian bomb shelter overtaken on Day 25 of the invasion. The Russian insurgents have consistently targeted civilians, particularly women and children, as they have bombed both a maternity hospital and a children’s hospital. As of March 25th, 136 children had been killed in Ukraine by Russian forces. War is always a tragedy, but particularly now, as we see a disproportionate amount of civilians being targeted, particularly civilians that belong to the most vulnerable populations. This is a type of aggression that many of the refugees we serve have faced at the hands of dictators and terrorists. It has created a new wave of refugees to add to a global refugee crisis. In the last decade, the number of people fleeing their homes around the world has doubled. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 84 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes in the last decade. Among them are over 26.6 million refugees, the highest population on record. 68% of the world’s refugees come from just 5 countries. This does not account for the number of refugees coming out of Ukraine as of March 2022. In just three weeks, the crisis in Ukraine made the country into the second-largest country of origin for the global refugee population. The UNHCR conservatively estimates that 10% of Ukraine’s population will become refugees due to Russian aggression. This is an ache we feel very strongly at American FRRME. The populations we serve have also escaped the horrors of war, and in most cases, extreme sectarian violence. Like the refugees from Ukraine, these resilient people have had to uproot their lives and flee their homes after losing their loved ones, friends, and livelihoods. The situation echoes what we saw unfold in Syria in 2011, in which millions were displaced from their homes in the wake of war crimes and unspeakable violence. As of March 15th, 2022, the civil war in Syria has entered its 11th year. Over 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, and remain in a state of limbo in many countries across the Middle East and Europe, unable to return to Syria, and in many cases unable to receive citizenship in their host countries. The Christians of Iraq and Kurdistan were similarly uprooted from their homes by the ISIS insurgency nearly eight years ago. Most have not returned, as the climates in their regions of origin are still rife with religious bigotry and the threat of extremism. There are children now approaching adulthood whose childhood memories are those of instability and bloodshed. Refugees who settle in neighboring nations across the Middle East are often not allowed to attain citizenship or visas, or to work. In the case of children born into refugee camps, most are considered stateless, not allowed to receive citizenship in their parents’ host country, and not able to receive citizenship in their family’s country of origin. Healthcare, food security, and education are sorely lacking in many refugee communities across the world, particularly in the Middle East. Many refugees who have fled conflicts in Iraq and Syria have fled to places like Madaba, Jordan, where we operate the Olive Tree Center. At the OTC, we operate programs aimed at providing hope, help, and healing to those who have been impacted by the tragedies of war and violence. As the global refugee crisis intensifies, more programs are needed like the Olive Tree Center, Nineveh SEED, and the outreach programs through St. George’s School and Clinic and Baghdad. We have recently announced the creation of the General David E. Greer Scholarship, a legacy scholarship named in honor of our late executive director, honoring his dream of providing education to refugees in need. Although children in the United States are granted a free public education, this does not exist for refugees in Jordan. And since they are not allowed to work in Jordan, a private education is unattainable to most refugee families. The scholarship provides educational opportunities to students in Madaba, whose aspirations would be otherwise out of reach. According to a 2019 report by the UN Refugee Agency, out of 7.2 million refugee children around the world, only 3.7 million have the opportunity to attend school. Globally, 91% of children attend elementary (primary) school, whereas only 63% of refugee children have this opportunity. Whether or not a student finishes the 8th grade is a deciding factor in their ability to finish their K-12 education. So, we’ve decided to implement a program that will provide school supplies, uniforms, tuition, transportation and supportive services like tutoring to get kids into and keep them in school. At the Olive Tree Center, we also provide occupational learning for older youth and adults. We have a cosmetology class, as well as a carpentry studio; both teaching valuable skills that will take our students far in life, wherever they choose to go in the world. We also provide therapeutic programs to aid in trauma-healing. Our support group, called the Hope Group, serves as a space for refugees to lean on one another, as well as practice their English skills. Our music and art therapy programs are allowing our learners to express themselves creatively, exercise their minds, and learn hand-eye coordination. In the wake of the refugee crisis around the world, more programs are needed like the ones administered by American FRRME. Unfortunately, refugees are among the world’s most under-served populations. Life is not easy for refugees in Jordan and other parts of the Middle East. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the most vulnerable of these refugees. American FRRME is committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East. Our hearts go out to the victims of brutality in Ukraine, who, like our friends at the Olive Tree Center, have lost everything. We hope and pray that the conflict will come to an end, and that the Ukrainian people will have an opportunity to heal from their trauma and return to their homes and communities, as is the wish of refugees around the world.
- American FRRME | Olive Tree
August 6th Event at Olive Tree Center Garners Worldwide Media Attention for Iraqi Refugees by Keely Jahns August 11, 2022 On August 6th, 2022, Iraqi refugees and friends of the community gathered at the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the ISIS invasion of the Nineveh Plain. Their displays of resilience and joy were an affront to the the insurgents who inflicted terror on their communities eight years ago. The event was a brilliant display of culture and healing, and has garnered attention from news outlets around the world. See what the press is saying about the event, about Iraqi Christians, and our mission, here: The Baptist Press | Christians still displaced from northern Iraq 8 years after ISIS invasion The Christian Post | Refugees commemorate 8th anniversary of Islamic State invasion of Iraq Baptist Standard | Iraqi Christians still displaced eight years after ISIS invasion Church Leaders | Christians Still Displaced From Northern Iraq 8 Years After ISIS Invasion Christianity Daily (South Korea) – IS 이라크 침공 8주기…미 구호단체 “기독교 난민 100만명 무국적자” (8th Anniversary of the IS Invasion of Iraq… US Aid Group Says 1 Million Christian Refugees are Stateless) Real America’s Voice | American Sunrise | AFRRME Chairman, Col. Max Wood, on American Sunrise discussing the persecution of Iraqi Christians The Worldview in 5 Minutes Podcast Features: Iraqi Christians Attacked by ISIS Need YOUR Help Christian Iraqis Celebrate 7-year Anniversary After ISIS attack Iraqi Christians Mark Tragic Anniversary Life is not easy for Iraqi refugees. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the most vulnerable of these refugees. American FRRME is committed to offering long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East.
- American FRRME | Olive Tree - Black Day
Iraqi Christian Refugees to Gather at Olive Tree Center to Observe “The Black Day” By Keely Jahns Published On August 4, 2022 On August 6th, 2022, refugees and displaced persons from the Nineveh Plain will be observing the eight-year anniversary of the 2014 ISIS insurgency. This is known by Iraqi Christians as “The Black Day.” It is a solemn observance of remembrance for the lives, freedoms and livelihoods lost and uprooted by ISIS terrorists as they swept across Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. Last year, refugees at the Olive Tree Center held an internationally live streamed concert to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the ISIS insurgency that removed them from their homes, friends, families and communities. They displayed unique expressions of creativity and joy, in direct defiance of the terrorists who desired the destruction of their hearts. Their stories were powerful, like that of Stavro, a young teenager participating in programs at the Olive Tree Center. Young Stavro, aged six at the time that ISIS invaded his homeland, had this to say: “A part of us died that day. We had to flee our city overnight, because if we stayed, we would have starved or died. We walked many miles to get away, with so many dead people, burned houses, and bodies. We asked our parents when we could return to our joys, our schools, and normal life, but we had no answer. We didn’t know how we would survive, but we believed God was with us. We came to Madaba, [and I] fell in love with this city, [where] we prayed that the war would end and for all nations to know God.” Another refugee, Haneen, delivered a powerful poem about her experience fleeing ISIS, in which she said that she not only forgives the ISIS insurgents that caused her suffering, but that she loves them as Christ loves us. She credits the difficulties she has faced through her personal connection with Jesus Christ. “Joseph’s brothers wanted evil in him, but God brought out of their evil a good for the whole world. Finally, at the beginning of the suffering, I used to say, may God forgive them, but today I say thank you to ISIS the terrorists, because without their brutality and their control over our areas, many of nominal Christians would not have returned to their creator and become true believers in him. “The first of them is me, as without that catastrophe that befell us, it would have been very possible that I would not know Christ personally, would not be here to share with you my testimony and would not be Haneen who is standing in front of you today.” These moving testimonies were accompanied by joyous cultural displays. The Olive Tree Center community came together to celebrate and share their culture. Through displays of music from the guitar class, poetry from the English language classes, wearing of the traditional garb and a joyous dabke dance, the event concluded on a positive and uplifting note for the hope of a promising future for all of the Iraqi Christian refugees. This year, as the refugees at the Olive Tree Center gather to remember the day that changed their lives forever, we stand in solidarity with them. May their remembrances of this “Black Day” bring further healing to their hearts, and may they teach the world about the beautiful, living cultures of the Nineveh Plain, Iraq and the resilience of faith in the face of persecution. Life is not easy for Iraqi refugees. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the most vulnerable of these refugees. American FRRME is committed to offering long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East. American FRRME works to support the ongoing needs of Iraqis – primarily Christian Iraqis – who fled Iraq and Kurdistan during the ISIS insurgency in 2014. The organization supports those displaced within Iraq many of whom remain living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in Baghdad and northern Iraq, as well as supporting those who fled to neighboring Jordan. Working in partnership with churches in Iraq and Jordan, American FRRME is on the ground, providing food, clothing, shelter, education and more. In 2019 we established the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan. The center provides a safe and accessible place for Iraqi refugees to gather together and celebrate their culture together. Crucially, the center provides education and therapeutic activities including English classes, sewing, art and music, along with a mosaic and wood workshop and fresh produce garden.