What caused the crisis in Iraq?
ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria) originated as a terrorist group in Iraq that pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. In June 2014, the group proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate and began referring to itself as the Islamic State. As a caliphate, it claimed religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. Its adoption of the name Islamic State and its idea of a worldwide caliphate were widely criticized, with the UN, various governments and mainstream Muslim groups vehemently rejecting the idea of its statehood.
Rejected or not, they managed to seize large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, killing or taking captives thousands of Yezidis, Kurds, and anyone else that refused to bow to their rule. Millions were forced to flee for their lives, creating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis to date.
On August 3rd, 2014 Islamic soldiers from ISIS attacked the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq home to approximately 250,000 people, many of them Yezidis. Yezidis are a peaceful minority group of about 800,000. Many of them are shepherds and produce farmers and were living side-by-side with their Muslim and Arab neighbors. Thousands of them were forced to flee on foot, taking refuge in the Sinjar Mountains were they languished for eight days before aid was able to get to them. The ones that didn’t manage to escape were rounded up like animals, the men and older boys were shot or buried alive. The women and girls were sold as sex slaves and the young boys were taken to ISIS training camps to be indoctrinated with Islamic propaganda and trained as fighters. Today, thousands are still missing.
After escaping from the mountain, thousands of them ended up in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq. Here they were put into huge refugee camps, empty houses and wherever they could find shelter. Today there are more than 1.5 million refugees in Kurdistan.
WHAT CAUSED THE CRISIS IN COLOMBIA?
Every day, approximately 5,000 Venezuelans are forced to leave their homeland in search of food and shelter. More than 4 million have left Venezuela in hopes of finding security with more than 1 million having left in the last year. Most of them are heading into Colombia looking for work and a safe place to sleep. On foot, carrying a few belongings in backpacks and bags, many of them with little children, they have become know as the Walkers.
Venezuela is in the midst of a leadership struggle, with authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro facing challenges from opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Guaidó has been recognized as Venezuela’s leader by many countries, including the United States. This leadership struggle has caused Venezuelan currency to lose most of it’s value, with inflation of more than 30,000%. To put this into perspective, if you had one million dollars worth of Venezuelan currency in 2014, that same currency would now be almost enough to buy one dozen of eggs. Most of the people crossing the border are without any savings, having lost it all to the hyperinflation.
What PCCR is doing in Colombia
PCCR first sent a team to Colombia this summer to see how we could help. On October 5th, I travelled to Colombia once again, this time with a young man who wants to take his family down there to assist with the crisis. We were able to connect with a local Christian man who has a burden to help the Venezuelans in any way he can. With his help, we were able to open a very simple shelter in a strategic location where the Walkers would wait overnight hoping to catch a ride with a truck or some kind hearted fellow for the trip across the desert on the way to Bogota. Many of the Walkers were sleeping in the open and heading out the next morning with empty stomachs unless someone was willing to give them a few bites of breakfast. Now we are able to provide bathroom and shower facilities, a safe place to sleep, and a simple but nourishing breakfast along with an encouraging message and gospel literature. We are also looking at the possibility of opening a soup kitchen in a different city where we have been told that, because of the remote location, the walkers are not receiving much (if any) help.
There are so many opportunities to reach out, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, in Colombia. Most of the Venezuelans are from a Catholic background and have mixed in parts of the idol worshipping religions found in the jungle regions of southern Venezuela and Colombia.
Our goal is simple. To be the hands and feet of Jesus in Colombia. To reach out in love, to meet their physical needs of food and water, their emotional needs of safety and knowing someone cares for them, and their spiritual needs by introducing them to the God who cares for them more than anyone else.
We are committed to using the resources God has given us to reach out and help those in need in Colombia. Currently we are renting two units in a warehouse complex on the road between Cucuta and Bogota for an overnight shelter for the Walkers. It’s a relatively simple shelter but it provides restroom and shower facilities and a safe place to sleep for the night. There, we can also provide a simple but nourishing meal for breakfast and a sack lunch and bottled water for the road before they head out once again in the morning. The Walkers are carrying their meager belongings in backpacks and bags, some of them are pushing strollers with babies and some are carrying their little ones so even this little we can provide is a huge blessing to them.