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- American FRRME | Priest Murdered
Priest Murdered in Northwest Pakistan By Keely Jahns Published On February 3, 2022 On January 30th, 2022, Bishop William Siraj, Father Naaem Patrick, and a third, yet unnamed priest had just finished celebrating Sunday Mass in the Gulbahar neighbourhood of Peshawar City, Pakistan. The holy men were walking home in peace, when the unthinkable happened. A motorcycle or motorcycles neared the group, before the peaceful mist of this cool Sunday walk was interrupted by the rattle of gunshots. Multiple shots were fired, striking Bishop Siraj, aged 75, several times. Father Naaem Patrick was wounded, and the unnamed priest was unharmed. According to police, Bishop Siraj died immediately. Father Naaem was taken to the hospital to receive medical attention for his wounds. The gunmen escaped on what police believed to be motorcycles, initiating a provincial manhunt. Law enforcement is still scrambling to find CCTV footage of the gunmen escaping after the attack. As of yet, the killers have not been found, and no terror or other extremist group has taken responsibility for the attack. Additional policemen were deployed around Peshawar’s All Saints Church, where a memorial service for Father Siraj was attended by more than 3,000 mourners on Monday, January 31st. The memorial service was held at the same church that was attacked by militants with bombs and gunfire in 2013. More than 70 worshippers were killed and 100 were wounded in that attack, one of Pakistan’s worst targeting Christians. Hina Jilani, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, condemned the killing, saying the commission sees the attack “as a blatant assault not only on Pakistan’s Christian community but on all religious minorities whose right to life and security of person remains under constant threat”. This is far from the first time that violence has been committed against Pakistan’s Christian minority. Ranked eighth on Open Doors World Watch List , Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. For reference, the neighboring nation of Iraq, where many of our initiatives to help those under severe persecution are located, is ranked 14th. Open Doors lists the persecution in these countries as “extreme,” and “very high.” Pakistan’s national constitution sanctions discrimination against Christians and other minorities, barring them from holding positions in the federal government such as Prime Minister, President, or Judge. Evangelism of any kind is forbidden, and those suspected of proselytizing face prison time. Forced conversion is commonplace, with one Christian journalist forced to quit her job at a prominent news outlet in 2019 because she would not convert to Islam. That is the least of the violence against Christians in Pakistan, with reports of Christians facing extreme violence, such as sexual assault, beatings, and murder for their refusal to convert to Islam. Women from minority religious groups are often subjected to vicious kidnappings and forced marriages to Islamic extremists. Conversions to Christianity by Muslim-born individuals are not recognized as valid by the Pakistani government and are punishable by death under the nation’s blasphemy laws. Violence against Christians in Pakistan has been a fact of life for several decades, with the situation becoming increasingly dangerous in the last few years. In 2009, there was a series of pogroms against Christians in Pakistan, at the hands of Islamic extremists, known as the Gojra riots. Eight people were killed, including a child, with many others beaten and maimed, with homes and businesses also burned down in acts of brutal mob violence. In 2012, protesters broke through the gates of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Mardan, burning the church and its connected school. On March 15th 2015, two blasts took place at a Roman Catholic Church and a Christ Church during Sunday service at Youhanabad town of Lahore. At least 15 people were killed and 70 were wounded in the attacks. On March 27th 2016, at least 70 were killed and over 340 wounded when a Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber targeted Christians celebrating Easter and attacked a playground in Lahore. On December 17th 2017, 9 were killed and 57 injured in an ISIS bombing. Muslims make up a little over 96% of the population in Pakistan. The largest minority religion in Pakistan is Hinduism, at a little over 2%. Christians in Pakistan are a small minority of the country, at just 1.27% of the population, and are disproportionately targeted by their muslim neighbors. Christians in Pakistan are largely members of the Punjabi culture, and are mostly of Dalit ancestry, meaning that they or their ancestors converted to Christianity from Hinduism before the independence of Pakistan in 1947. Dalit is the lowest social caste in Hindu culture, known colloquially as “untouchables.” They were historically enslaved and exploited by the upper class in India, where they were subjugated based on Hindu religious teaching that placed their community at the bottom of society. These are the most vulnerable and marginalized people in their greater communities. Adopting the Christian religion in such a heavily opposed environment has proven difficult and dangerous for many. AFFRME stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the Middle East, in places such as Pakistan. We are committed to sharing their stories, and implementing programs, such as our initiatives in Iraq and Jordan, that we hope will bring relief and reconciliation to the region. Our aim is to provide help, hope, and healing to Christians and other religious minorities fleeing oppression in the Middle East Please keep the Christians of Pakistan in your prayers.
- American FRRME | A Beautiful Example
A Beautiful Example Of Servant Leadership. By Alice Seeley Published On July 9, 2020 Interview with Brigadier General David E. Greer, who is the current Executive Director of the American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. Alice: How did you and your wife Susan meet? General Greer: We meet at a work conference, and got married in Baghdad in a security compound in 2009, while we were working for the US State Department there. Alice: What are some of your hobbies? General Greer: I enjoy gardening, golf, and reading —mostly history. Right now I am currently reading about the American Revolution. Alice: What is one of the proudest moments of your life? General Greer: One of the proudest moments of my life was when my daughter was born. Alice: What can you tell me about your military service? General Greer: I was commissioned from the ROTC at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville as a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery. After active duty with the 2nd Armored Division at Ft. Hood, Texas, I transitioned to the United States Army Reserve, then to the Tennessee Army National Guard. I served in various command and staff positions within the 30th Separate Armored Brigade, the 196th Field Artillery Brigade, and State Headquarters. I served as the Deputy Commanding General at the U.S. Army Field Artillery School in Fort Sill, OK, and culminated my career as the Land Component Commander of the TN Army National Guard. I served as past President of the National Guard Association of Tennessee. I most enjoyed leading and training soldiers. I retired in 2008 and went to work in Baghdad for the US State Department with the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team. Alice: How did you come to be involved with American FRRME? General Greer: While in Baghdad, I became friends with Canon Andrew White, vicar of St George’s Anglican Church, Baghdad. He was involved with FRRME in the United Kingdom and I became interested in the foundation’s work. In 2011, Susan and I moved back to Maine and retired with not much to do. I contacted a member of the Board of Trustees of American FRRME to find out how I could help. At that time the Foundation’s Executive Director was working out of the country and was unable to be as involved as they would have liked. After some discussion, I was asked to become Executive Director and took this position on January 1st, 2012. Alice: What is or has been the most rewarding part of your work with American FRRME? General Greer: One of the most rewarding parts of my work was the opening of the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan, in 2019. This center provides trauma counseling, English lessons, and help with immigration paperwork in a neutral setting, so everyone feels welcome. Alice: What do you hope to achieve before you pass the torch to another Executive Director? General Greer: I would like to see American FRRME in a stronger financial standing and establish more long-term commitments from donors before I pass the torch to someone else. And I would also like to expand the number of Olive Tree Centers to provide more of these services to more people. Alice: What does American FRRME hope to achieve over the next five years? General Greer: The current five-year plan of American FRRME is to continue expanding the Olive Tree Center concept to other cities in Jordan, increasing the outreach of the Nineveh SEED (Sustainable Enterprise Economic Development), and keep working with St. George’s Church in Baghdad. And also to hopefully expand our efforts to help more people outside of Jordan.
- American FRMME | Christians at Risk
Middle Eastern Christians at Risk, Warns Researcher By Keely Jahns Published On July 14, 2022 Christian communities in the Middle East are at high risk of continued persecution, warned Robert Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project. The Philos Project is a new Christian advocacy group dedicated to advancing pluralism and religious freedom in the Middle East. In a recent podcast interview with Jewish Insider , Nicholsons said: “A lot of advocacy for these communities over the last few years, especially since ISIS, has been unfortunately very little in terms of impact. Part of our work at the Philos Project is trying to build a community of Christian leaders from different backgrounds [and] denominations to understand better and engage better on Near East or Middle East issues,” Nicholson said of his advocacy work in the region. “[A] big part of that is [the] Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the other big part, as you can probably guess, is the plight of these Christian communities, all of which go back, you know, 2,000 years.” Nicholson specifically cited Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Jordan as the countries of particular focus. Even in Lebanon, where Christians make up 35% of the population and have in recent years been represented in government, Nicholson, who has been banned from entering the country for life, said the community has been “squeezed” by restrictions. In many countries across the Middle East, there is a technical “right to worship,” for those who have been born into Christian communities. However, in actuality, this is not upheld by society at large, and the “rights” which have been afforded to these communities are often outweighed by the restrictions placed on worship. According to Pew, 90% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa have active blasphemy laws , many of which have been used to justify violence against Christians and other minority communities, and mandate strict punishments for conversion from Islam to any other religion. “What you find is that Christians have the technical right to worship — right, you can go to Mass on Sunday morning, [in] most of these places, but the cultural environment, and certainly the political environment, is set up in such a way to either exclude you or even to target you,” he explained. This is demonstrated in places like Egypt, home to the largest population of Coptic Christians in the world, where nine Christians were jailed earlier this year for attempting to rebuild their community church after it had been allegedly destroyed by Islamic extremists. In countries across the Middle East, Africa, and even in South Asia; there are often restrictions on how publicly Christians may express their faith, and when, how, and if churches can be built or repaired. In many nations across the Middle East, your religion is listed on your government issued identification; and although it is legal to convert from any religion to Islam, it is not legal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Many converts to Christianity from Islam in the Middle East will never be officially recognized on paper as anything other than Muslim, and most must practice in secret or otherwise risk, at the very least, familial and social alienation, and at worst, the loss of their lives. There are many, many “closet Christians,” living in the Middle East, practicing their faith at the risk of severe persecution. A 2015 Global Census study published by Baylor University institute for studies of religion estimates that 10.2 million Muslims have converted to Christianity since the 1960’s based on global missionary data. Most impactful, there are tight restrictions on spreading the Gospel in these nations, and conversion from Islam, or proselytizing to Muslims, can be punishable by death. Even the mere accusation of proselytizing can have disastrous consequences. This is true in places like Pakistan, where a Christian woman was recently stabbed to death in brutal mob violence because a child had a “dream” declaring her an infidel. Nicholson explained the sad reality that the plight of Christians in the Middle East is something that most Americans will never hear about, and is rarely talked about in political discourse or public policy. Many Americans do not know that Christianity was once the dominant religion in the Middle East, and that it is still a cornerstone of many rich but vanishing cultures across the region. “Even if the American people care about this issue, it is never going to be a top foreign policy priority for any administration, Republican or Democrat,” Nicholson said earlier in the interview. This is a burden we feel strongly at American FRRME. Our organization is one of a handful that are specifically helping Christian refugees and IDPs (as well as other minority religions in Iraq, such as Yazidi and Shabak) in places like Iraq, and helping the Assyrian and Kurdish diaspora living as refugees in other countries, like Jordan. We want the world to know about the plight of Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and Shabak, and to mobilize Americans and partners around the world to make an impact in the lives of those touched by over a century of sectarian violence. As the Middle East becomes increasingly more hostile to Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities, American FRRME stands committed to programs that provide hope, help and healing to those escaping sectarian violence. Our programs in Iraq are intended to help those who have lost everything to extremism with the hope to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. Our programs at the Olive Tree Center in Jordan offer vital assistance, as well as therapy programs and education to refugees and their children. 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 Christian families facing persecution across the Middle East.
- American FRRME | Meet Uma Rama
Meet Um Rama By Alice Seeley Published On May 31, 2021 Sylvia, also known as Um Rama, is a Jordanian Christian who has dedicated her life to serving others. In 2014, Sylvia’s eyes were opened to the suffering of her Christian brothers and sisters fleeing ISIS. “I heard about the Iraqi brothers and sisters who fled from ISIS,” she said. “I prayed for them and asked God to show me how to serve them.” She began working with a local church to support hundreds of the refugees, distributing food packages paid for by American FRRME. When the first Olive Tree Center was opened, she volunteered right away. Now she works as the Program Coordinator at the Olive Tree Center. Helena Scott, our Jordan Country Director says, “Um Rama truly embodies love in action. The Iraqi refugees call her Um Madaba, which means mother of all Madaba. The center has thrived with her involvement, despite the challenges of Covid.” Um Rama loves seeing the “joy returned to the children’s eyes through music, art, and English classes.” American FRRME has the privilege of working with churches in Iraq and Jordan to bring refugees hope, help, and healing. This is only possible with your support! Through your prayers and your generosity, we can help transform the lives of thousands of Christian refugees. 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 | Yazidi Forced to Flee
Yazidi People Forced to Flee the Nineveh Plain Once Again By Keely Jahns Published On May 13, 2022 A new round of fighting in Iraq has driven around 1,000 Yazidi families from their homes on the Nineveh Plain. Yazidis are a kurmanji-speaking ethno-religious minority indigenous to Kurdistan, a land that spans parts of modern-day Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. An ethno-religion is a unique group whose religion is inseparably entwined with heritage and culture. Ethno-religions around the world include Yazidis, Shabak, and Druze. Ones that Americans might be more familiar with would include Judaism and the Amish. Unfortunately, the Yazidi homeland has been rife with many conflicts, some rooted in political philosophy, and others rooted in religious extremism. Political and religious tensions are running high and has often resulted in violence against marginalized groups in the region. According to National Geographic, “For their beliefs, [the Yazidis] have been the target of hatred for centuries.” It is not the first time in recent history that the Yazidis have been forced out of their homes. Like their Christian and Shabak neighbors, Yazidis were targeted by ISIS for eradication in 2014. And just like their neighbors, many Yazidis were forced to convert, face execution, or flee. Many of the captured women and girls were forced into sex slavery. At the time, Yazidi leader Vian Dakhil warned: “Our entire religion is being wiped off the face of the earth.” According to the UN, around 5,000 Yazidi men were murdered and up to 7,000 women and children were kidnapped. Thousands are still missing. Both the UN and the European Parliament have described the events as genocide. Today, many of the families who faced violence in 2014 are leaving their homes once again. In Sinjar, a wave of refugees has fled new fighting that has erupted in the region between the Iraqi government and a resistance group. According to the news agency AFP, the number of Yazidi refugees that flee this conflict could actually be as high as 10,000 people. “It was an unbelievable nightmare,” 34-year-old Murad Shangali told a recent news outlet, the DW. He said that on Monday, “Iraqi security forces attacked the local militia with heavy weapons. We knew we would be the next victims.” So he and his family packed a few clothes, their IDs, and fled in their car to the Cham Mishko refugee camp. Despite a cease-fire between the Iraqi military and the Yazidi militia group last Thursday, hopes for a lasting peace are limited. “We haven’t been able to live happily after we returned home [after ISIS] and now we are scared that the situation is getting as bad as it was, with us being the victims again,” Shangali told the reporter. “What on earth is our mistake? Being an Iraqi Yazidi?” We are saddened to see violence spill-over into communities that have faced wave after wave of adversity. It is always a great tragedy to see peaceful lives uprooted and lost to conflict. In every war, there are innocents that are caught in the crossfire, regardless of the origin of the conflict. We wish for peace in Iraq and Kuridstan, and for the refugees of the 2014 insurgency, and now this conflict, to be able to return home and peacefully reestablish their lives. We know the aching of refugees for their homeland far too well. As an organization, we have worked with several minority communities across Iraq to help build brighter futures, including Yazidis. 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. Please PRAY for the victims of violence in the Nineveh Plain. Pray for the Yazidis, Shabak, and the Christian minority communities of the region, that they are able to heal and rebuild their lives in a brighter and more peaceful future. We dream of a world where everyone may practice their culture and religion in peace, and truly wish to see that happen in Iraq. Pray for the widows, the orphans, and those who are losing their homes and their livelihoods. May the Lord restore peace and have his hand of protection over those fleeing violence.
- American FRRME | Highlights of Hope Restored
Highlights of Hope Restored By FRRME Staff Published On August 29, 2021 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 On August the 6th, 2021, those who have been touched by the Olive Tree Center stood boldly before an international audience, showing the world what it looks like to embody the joy of Christ. The Hope Restored Concert at the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan was a smash hit. It was a triumph over the tribulations that the refugees at the center have experienced over the last seven years, observing the anniversary of when ISIS invaded the Nineveh Plain. There is no stopping these beautiful people, as God has continued to shape their lives even in their darkest hours. These are Christians who have truly persevered in the faith, in the face of many trials. UM RAMA In her opening remarks, Um Rama, an instrumental leader at the Olive Tree Center, had this to say: “I thank God for the presence of the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, and all of those who support the center, because it is a blessing for Iraqi families who come here. The doors are always open for grace and for blessing.” EXPRESSIONS OF JOY AND PRAISE “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” Psalm 100:1-4 We had the privilege of seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ talk about how their lives were transformed and healed by God through the Olive Tree Center in the midst of great suffering, and to witness their brilliant creativity through musical performances, poetry, and dance. The Praise Team lifted their voices in a joyful noise, singing stanzas from Amazing Grace and a traditional Iraqi Christian hymn. We heard from the Hope Group about the positivity that the center is able to facilitate in the lives of the refugees, and from one of the English classes about the many obstacles that they, and other Iraqi Christians like them, have overcome. We had the opportunity to partake in unique expressions of Iraqi culture, such as the singing of the Iraqi national anthem by the children at the center, and the traditional dabke dances performed by both the center’s youth and the center’s young adults. The guitar students, who began this season of classes without any prior knowledge of the instrument, performed a traditional Iraqi song about longing for their homeland. Those who spoke also had the opportunity to demonstrate the success of the English language classes being taught at the center. STAVRO At the Hope Restored event, we had the opportunity to hear many heartbreaking testimonies from refugees about “The Black Day,” (August 6th, 2014). 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.” LONGING FOR THE BEAUTY OF QARAQOSH With this, we heard original poetry read by Riveen, written by her father in law, renowned Iraqi poet Benam Attalla, which spoke of the beauty of and the longing for their homeland, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Iraq: “We will not leave Our eyes will always see the best Bakhdida is a green branch Its leaves will not wither Embroided on the side of the most beautiful time.” HANEEN Haneen delivered a powerful poem about her experience fleeing ISIS, in which she said in her native tongue 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 with drawing her into a personal relationship 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. “In the end I will say, thank you ISIS. I love you as I love myself but will never cherish your actions nor your beliefs. As God loves us and distinguishes us from our sins, this is precisely how I feel for you.” WATCH THE OLIVE TREE CENTER CONCERT TODAY You won’t want to miss out on this amazing event, and now you won’t have to. The Olive Tree Center: Hope Restored Concert is available to view in its entirety on the America FRRME Youtube channel. May this concert bless you as it blessed us!
- American FRRME | Meet Azad
Meet Azad By Keely Jahns Published On July 7, 2022 Azad is a refugee from Mosul. In Mosul and Qaraqosh, he worked as a formwork carpenter in housing construction. He and his family lived comfortably when Azad’s carpentry business was booming. Like many families, when there wasn’t enough work, they had to squeeze to get by; but they were still living happy, peaceful lives. “If we had work, we were fine. If not, we stayed home. The conditions were fine until ISIS appeared,” said Azad. When ISIS invaded Northern Iraq, Azad and his three children, Haneen, Andy, and Maryam, were forced to leave Iraq and flee to Jordan. “The day we left Qaraqosh, we had another family in the car with my family, my sister and her four children. We all had to get inside my car, and nine people could barely fit. The road was overcrowded with cars. Normally it takes one hour to travel to Erbil, but this trip took 11 hours. A road designed for only two cars had to fit 11 or 12 going across at once. It was really awful.” Azad and his family settled in Madaba, Jordan as refugees. As Iraqi refugees, they are not allowed to work for a wage. Their ability to survive depends on organizations like American FRRME and the Olive Tree Center. After having his livelihood taken, Azad needed to find purpose again. As a carpenter and handyman, also with agricultural experience, Azad’s skills have been indispensable to the Olive Tree Center. Azad is now the gardener at the center, and is participating in the programs and classes that the OTC offers refugees living in Madaba. “When I came here, I was very happy, because there are two things that I love a lot, farming and carpentry. My father had an orchard over 30 years ago, and when Um Rama told me the Olive Tree Center needs a farmer, I was really excited and told her I love farming.” Azad’s hard work has also helped to supply the local community with fresh produce. “We’ve grown crops, and distributed them to Iraqi refugees, and they were extremely happy. My routine after all these years, I get up and have breakfast, and come to work in the center. I’m ready to help the refugee community as much as I can, and they know that.” The center gives Azad and the other men a renewed purpose through gardening and carpentry projects, and helps develop job skills for when they can finally leave Jordan. Azad is now passing on his gardening skills to the other men, including his son, Andy. Andy has been able to participate in the music programs at the center, and has experienced a new richness in his walk with God through the adversity he has overcome: “I want to thank the Center for giving me the opportunity to learn piano. Now I’m learning to play the guitar. My dream is to be a soccer player. Being able to emigrate to a country like Australia would allow me to have a fulfilling future. Because in Iraq I couldn’t achieve my dream, so I find here better than Iraq. My faith has been firm since ISIS, and even before ISIS, my faith was steadfast. My faith didn’t change. I walk with God.” Azad and his family are still waiting in Jordan, struggling to get by as best they can. They, and countless refugees like them, need the hope, help, and healing that American FRRME helps to provide. Join our mission. You can watch Azad’s story, and others like it, at our Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkfEqSojqPe1lGmjP12jojg AZAD’S STORY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_ZhUbJhtWI
- American FRRME | Discipleship Culture
New Patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East Opens its Doors in Erbil by Keely Jahns September 16, 2022 The Assyrian Church of the East recently opened its new Patriarchate in Erbil , the capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan region . The inauguration ceremony was attended by area officials, including governmental officials, community leaders, local religious leaders and those with diplomatic ties. “It was then where the foundation for co-existence and brotherhood was laid out, and there is nothing more beautiful than a country where everyone lives as brothers,” local political leader Masoud Barzani said during a speech at the inauguration ceremony. “The Assyrian Church of the East today opened its new Patriarchate in Erbil. It’s a move decades in the making. The patriarchal seat left Iraq in 1933, but always with an eye on returning. Construction of a new facility in Erbil was announced in 2006,” Joe Snell, an Assyrian and the Middle East reporter with Al-Monitor, wrote on Twitter. Regarding the significance of opening this Patriarchate in Erbil, Joseph Slewah, a former Iraqi lawmaker from Nineveh who led the Warka bloc, told a news agency that opening churches in Iraq is not enough in ending the mayhem against Christians in the war-torn country. “The Christian people in Iraq, including the Assyrians, are prosecuted across the country, including in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The stones in the churches have no value if the Christian people are being prosecuted, feel they are second-degree citizens, evacuated from their lands and their political will denied across the country,” Slewah said. “There are less than half a million Christians left in all of Iraq, out of six million in 2003. In Baghdad, there were more than 750,000. Today, there are no more than 75,000,” explains William Warda, President of the Hammurabi organization for the protection of religious minorities, in an interview with the news organization The New Arab in 2020. Any and all positive developments for Christians in the Nineveh Plain are encouraging. American FRRME’s mission is to rebuild safe communities for Christians living in and returning to Iraq. 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.
- 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 | Children Don't Have Access
Children In The Middle East Don’t Have Access To Remote Learning By Alice Seeley Published On September 16, 2020 The past few months have been filled with debate over the reopening of schools and universities. Many schools are adopting a hybrid approach of part-time classes and remote learning and some are entirely remote due to COVID-19. Due to these circumstances, education is not available to all children. Not all families can afford to have a computer, internet access, or a stable home environment to ensure their children are all able to do their schoolwork. These challenges are especially common for refugee families in the Middle East, particularly those in Iraq, Jordan, or Syria. Recent studies have shown that close to half a billion children around the world lack access to education because they lack the proper equipment to study from home. Of that total, an estimated 37 million children in the Middle East and North Africa do not have access to equipment for remote learning. In these places, education has often already been interrupted due to war or displacement. In Syria, for example, the civil war and the refugee crisis have meant that millions of children are out of school. In addition, more than a third of the schools in the country were badly damaged during the war or are being used as shelters. And most refugee parents want their children to have an education but can not afford to have them not work just so the family can survive. Refugees, like all people around the world, deserve an opportunity to be educated. Having access to education gives refugee children routine and security despite the chaos around them. More importantly, it is the surest road to success after being displaced. An education gives refugees the chance to move on, rise above their circumstances, and rebuild their lives. The American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East gives refugees this life-changing gift. In 2015, the foundation initiated an afternoon school for Christian refugees in the suburbs of Amman, Jordan, which has gone on to be recognized as a model school in the region. Since then, we have underwritten tuition for refugees attending private schools, provided books and other materials to schools in settlement camps, funded the construction and provisioning of an all-girls school in a settlement camp in Kurdistan, funded Kindergarten and university expenses for refugee youth in Kurdistan, and taught English classes to both children and adults in Jordan, Kurdistan, and Iraq. Your generous donation will help us continue this work. 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. To make a donation to American FRRME , please visit https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/frrmeamerica?code=WebsiteGeneral 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 | Egypt Releases Coptic Christians
Egypt Releases Nine Coptic Christians Jailed for Attempting to Rebuild Church By Keely Jahns Published On April 28, 2022 On April 24th, 2022, after outcry from human rights organizations, the Egyptian State released nine Coptic Christians who were detained for attempting to rebuild their community church. They had been detained for nearly three months. Coptic Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, make up roughly 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 103 million people. The community has long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation. The nine residents of Ezbet Faragallah village in Minya governorate, south of Cairo, were part of a protest of about 70 people who on January 22nd had demanded the restoration of their church, which had burned down five years earlier. The act is widely believed to have been arson. Most in the village, including the clergy, believe it was burnt down by extremists; but an Egyptian law restricting Christian worship kept them from putting down a single brick to rebuild it. The church was burnt down in 2016, and clergy petitioned the government for the right to restore it, but received no response from authorities, even when it was fully demolished by the local government in July 2021. This delay is in direct contradiction of the restriction itself, which maintains that there should be a period of no longer than four months between the submission of such a request and an official response. Clergy and adherents are forbidden from building new churches, rebuilding damaged churches, or even making repairs to their churches without special approval from the Egyptian government. Mosques require no such approval. Why such a double standard exists can be traced back to Article Two of Egypt’s Constitution: “Islam is the religion of the State … The principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.” Sharia law follows the Muslim faith and belief in Allah and does not specifically address non-Muslim places of worship; strictly interpreted, the law forbids the building or renovating of churches in Egypt. Although the law is not uniformly enforced across Egypt, the aversion toward Christians in Egypt lives on. According to Amnesty International, the Egyptian authorities point to Law No. 80/2016, on Building and Repairing Churches, as an advancement of the rights of Christians in Egypt; however, in practice, the law is often used to prevent Christians from worshiping by restricting their right to build or repair churches, including those damaged in sectarian attacks. The nine villagers belonging to the The Church of Saint Joseph and Abu Sefein protested and were charged with “participating in an assembly that endangers public peace, and committing a terrorist act with the aim of disturbing public security,” according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). According to EIPR, authorities have conditionally approved less than 40 percent of requests to build or repair churches since the law came into effect, with only 20 percent granted final approval. In a statement last month , the rights watchdog Amnesty International called for the residents’ release, saying the authorities had “for years ignored calls to rebuild the church, leaving around 800 Coptic Christians without a place to worship in their village.” They were released this past Sunday when Coptic Christians, as well as Orthodox Christians around the world, celebrated Easter – a true victory on Christianity’s holiest day. The restrictions against Christians in Egypt are unfortunately not unique. Islamic Shariah, and anti-Christian sentiment are common across the Middle East. In many predominantly Muslim countries, your religion is a part of your birth certificate and is determined by the religion of your parents. This leads to discrimination on a social level, which is in most circumstances, perfectly legal. And, although anyone may change their paperwork in order to officially denote a conversion to Islam, in most Middle Eastern countries, converting from Islam to Christianity, or any minority religion, is not legally recognized. Those who wish to publicly convert from Islam to Christianity often face legal action under strict blasphemy laws, which include imprisonment, forced conversions back to Islam, and even death. According to Pew, 90% of countries in North Africa and the Middle East had some form of blasphemy laws. These punishments are sometimes carried out by the courts, but are also often carried out by mob violence. In some nations, such as Pakistan, where a seminarian was recently stabbed to death in a “witch hunt,” based on a child’s dream , a mere accusation of proselytizing can lead to violence. The Egyptian Criminal Code explicitly outlaws blasphemy. Nestled among prohibitions on advocating “extremist thoughts,” “instigating sedition,” or “prejudicing national security.” Article 98 also outlaws “disdaining and contempting any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto.” Although the strong anti-apostasy measures of neighboring nations are not technically in place in Egypt, the Egyptian Criminal Court’s anti-blasphemy precedent has been used to go after so-called “apostates” in the past. And although the Egyptian government recognizes other Abrahamic religions, in practice, government and society is centered around the practice of Islam to the point of exclusion for other faiths. As the Middle East becomes increasingly more hostile to Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities, American FRRME stands committed to programs that provide hope, help, and healing to those escaping sectarian violence. Our programs in Iraq are intended to help those who have lost everything to extremism with the hope to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. Our programs in Madaba offer vital assistance, as well as therapy programs and education to refugees and their children. 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 | St. George's Church
St. George’s Anglican Church and Outreach Bringing Hope, Help, and Healing to Baghdad By Keely Jahns Published On May 4, 2022 St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad had its doors shuttered during Saddam Hussein’s regime. After the end of the dictator’s rule, it opened its doors once again, but not without facing many challenges. Built in 1936 to honor fallen British soldiers, it served as both a symbol of Christianity as well as the West, in a land that is aggressively opposed to its religious minorities and prone to extremism. Today, the church is run by and for Iraqis. It is shepherded by Reverend Faez Jerjees, Iraq’s only ordained Anglican clergyman. Canon Faez has been involved with St. George’s since 2006. He has been recognized by both the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and Queen Elizabeth II for his humanitarian work. In July 2020, he was honored with the award of an MBE – Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He was awarded with this title for his “services to the Anglican, Christian and local community in Baghdad.” As the only Anglican church in Iraq, in a country which is ranked 14th on Open Doors’ World Watch List for Christian persecution, St. George’s Anglican Church is a beacon of light for Christians of all backgrounds in one of the most tumultuous places on earth. St. Thomas carried the gospel to Iraq in the 1st century AD, and it is still home to one of the oldest bodies of Christians in the world. Sadly, their numbers have been dwindling year after year, particularly since the 2014 ISIS insurgency, reaching levels of “near extinction,” in 2019 . St. George’s stands as a symbol of hope to those who remain. Located in Baghdad’s Red Zone, St. George’s has been bombarded with many rockets and threats of violence over the years, but nothing has been able to stop the church from being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the city. Their spirit of service has gone a long way in helping to unite the people of Baghdad. St. George’s operates a medical and dental clinic that provides free care to the citizens of Baghdad. It is open to anyone, regardless of their religious or ethnic background. It has become such a unifying force, that both Muslims and Christians work on staff as doctors, nurses, and dentists at the clinic, providing care to their fellow Baghdadis. St. George’s also operates a K-5 school that offers superior instruction, safe facilities, and clean restrooms. The Kindergarten, which has been operating for several years, is one of the most highly esteemed childhood educational programs in Baghdad. Anglican School of the Redeemer – al-Fadi, is a primary school (K-5) that serves children in the surrounding area of Baghdad. At its opening in 2018, it was celebrated as a unifying force across denominational lines, and among the community’s Christian and Muslim families. The Kindergarten, which has operated many years prior to the addition of grades 1-5, is comprised of children from mostly Muslim families, who trust the school’s ability to provide a safe venue for education in English and Arabic, and its teaching of strong moral values. This is a critical bridge in a region that has been inundated in sectarian violence. It is commendable and inspiring that St. George’s has become a trusted fixture in a society that is so often divided by religious and cultural differences. In the words of Canon Faez in 2017, “[We,] want to also [teach] them how to live together, how they can learn together, eat together and love each other. This is very important for the future in Iraq.” Despite many challenges, St. George’s continues to build bridges of healing in Baghdad. But, without people like you, our mission would be impossible to achieve. American FRRME is the primary US organization funding St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. American FRRME is committed to long-term, sustainable programs for minorities in the Middle East, like those run by St. George’s. Prayer and support from our faithful partners in the United States help St. George’s to not only survive but also to thrive.