Iraq's Persecuted Yazidis Get Help from Unlikely Place
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MOUNT SINJAR, Iraq – The Yazidis are an ancient people who live mostly in Nineveh province of northern Iraq. They have been persecuted by their Muslim neighbors for millennia, but recently they've been victims of genocide as ISIS took over their homeland.
But one Christian group has been ministering to these people just a few kilometers from the ISIS front lines.
Uninhabitable City, Unlikely Help
Mount Sinjar made international headlines in 2014 when tens of thousands of Yazidis fled into these hills to escape ISIS, carrying little more than the clothes on their backs. It was mid-summer and hundreds died of thirst and exposure on the trek.
Eventually, the world community came together to deliver water and food to those left stranded on the mountain.
Two winters have come and gone and there are still thousands of Yazidis living in makeshift camps while down below, Kurdish soldiers have established a perimeter around the city of Sinjar, which was held by ISIS for a year and a half.
When they were finally pushed out last November, they left the city an uninhabitable ruin. Most Yazidis won't be able to return to Sinjar for years, if ever.
But help is coming from an unlikely place: the country of Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Burmese Christians have come to Iraq to give aid and training to the Yazidis and the Kurdish army. They understand persecution better than most. They belong to a group called the Free Burma Rangers. David Eubank is the founder.
"For the past 20-plus years, we've been in Burma in the various conflict areas, sharing the love of Jesus, giving people help and getting the news out. And then last year we were invited to come here, and this is now our fourth trip to help the Kurdish people who are under attack by ISIS," Eubank said.
The Free Burma Rangers has made a name for itself going into conflict zones around the world and helping the world's most vulnerable people.
"We go into conflict areas because that's where we see great needs that often are unmet because of the violence and danger that's there," he explained.
Eubank's background and military experience made him uniquely prepared for this kind of ministry.
"Growing up as a missionary kid in Thailand, hunting since I was very small, running around the jungle, also in the Rangers and later in the Special Forces, all that enabled me to understand – How do you function in a war zone? How can you help people? What's realistic? What's not realistic? What can you really do?" he said.
Family on the Frontlines
When CBN News traveled to northern Iraq to see what the Free Burma Rangers were doing there, Eubank and his team had already been there for six weeks, spending time with frontline troops conducting training and providing medical care.
They also brought with them over $20,000 worth of donated warm clothing for the Yazidis living on top of Mount Sinjar.
But Eubank doesn't do this alone. He brings his wife and three children because they believe these Yazidi children can more easily relate to the Gospel that way.
Eubank's son, Pete, is 10 years old.
"I have faith in God that He will protect me wherever I go and wherever our family goes," Pete said. "ISIS is a very strong force that needs to be stopped and there are still women and children held captive by ISIS."
"Sinjar just mostly looks like rubble and buildings have been destroyed and many have just been flattened," he added.
"Our little part of the body is to stand with the people who are under attack. Our mission is not to fight the enemy, but to stand with the people and help them," David Eubank explained.
As we drove through the city of Sinjar, we noticed there are civilians who are starting to return. Even a shop here opened back up.
People are scavenging through the ruins, picking up whatever they can find that's useful and starting the process of putting their lives back together.
One of those families was fortunate that ISIS used their home as a headquarters so it wasn't destroyed. They've opened a bakery to sell bread to the soldiers who are guarding the city.
Rebuilding from the Rubble
As the first families start to come back into the shattered city of Sinjar, the FBR team was there, conducting a Good Life Club and teaching these Yazidi kids about Jesus. More than 40 children showed up one particular day and seemed eager to hear about the love of God.
One man we met told us ISIS kidnapped his wife in 2014 and he hadn't heard from her until three days earlier. She called to say she was being held in a prison in Ramadi and that ISIS was now asking for a ransom of $5,000.
Before he could finish his story, his phone rang. It was his cousin, a 15-year-old boy captured about the same time as his wife. The young man had been taken to an ISIS training camp in Syria and was pleading for help to escape.
Everyone had thought he was dead.
As ISIS is slowly being pushed out of Iraq, they are starting to try to ransom their captives back to their families. And despite the cost, their families are desperate to get them back.
"What would you do if your wife was captured two years ago with your baby kids?" Eubank asked. "What would you do, really? I think you would move heaven and earth to go save them. And that's what we need to do."
For the time being, Eubank and his Free Burma Rangers team are continuing to do what they can to shine the light of hope into a very dark place.
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