Erbil, Iraq, 14 December 2014—Today was both emotionally and spiritually draining. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words. The below stories and pictures, all shared with their permission, are raw, unedited, and inspiring. Having fled ISIS, these folks are trying to survive winter, which they cannot flee. I had the privilege of spending time today with Cradle Council Members who are delivering critical relief. Thank you for your support to The Cradle Fund which helped make this possible.

Good morning, Erbil

In an abandoned building across from St. Joseph’s Church, where many IDP families who fled ISIS live: flooding saturates the basement, while the roof leaks…very cold as kerosene heaters are not allowed due to flammable walls, while electric heaters constantly short an electric system not designed for refugee families…

Some IDP (internally displaced people) families choose canvas tents since they can use kerosene heaters, ventilating them despite the smell…Etmar keeps warm in her tent home.

“Caravans” are winterized boxes, 6′ x 10′, without a bathroom…as seen above, in area 189, there are 61 caravans for 94 families…who share about 10 bathrooms and 10 stoves…the folks here can’t use kerosene heaters because the caravan doesn’t ventilate…meanwhile, the electricity grid wasn’t made to support 61+ electric heaters…so the heat goes out often…people are cold.

With Sister Diana at Ankawa Mall, an abandoned mall that houses 413 families…in such a small space, tensions run high within and among families who have nothing to do, with no schooling for their kids…When ISIS came, Ilias & Raghad fled Karaqosh with their two children, sleeping Mattias and Jovian, with nothing but the clothes they were wearing…now they try to keep hope.

With Assyrian Aid Society (AAS), a Cradle Council Member, distributing food and kerosene at an apartment complex rented by the Chaldean Church: a good partnership! These folks are all from the same village, Karamles, having fled ISIS together with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Below, two sisters—Ahlam & Nahla—were both nurses for 40 years. Now they are losing hope of returning. They miss most their family pictures, favorite books, and church. Also pictured, AAS’s local volunteer coordinator, Rome.

Assyrian Youth Center, now a home for several families…Saba Patros: “We still want to return to our home. We are the original people of this land. We have been here 7000 years. We built this civilization. ISIS wants to tax us but we are not guests. The international community should help all minorities, not just Christians, so we can stay.”

Assyrian Youth Center: Christian (left) and Chris (right) are five month old twins. They were but one week when their parents fled ISIS. They want to return and live their names.

With Sarah, who fled from Karaqosh. She is 95 years old: “I didn’t want to be here at this age. I want to be in my home.”

With Samir, his wife, Mora, and their daughter, Warhda. At 4am on 6 August, they awoke to mortar fire which killed two of their cousins. They fled Karaqosh immediately and now live in this square…with four other families upstairs at the Assyrian Youth Center in Erbil.

With the strong women of the Assyrian Women’s Union (founded in 1992). They are in all of the major towns of Iraq, helping to distribute aid and organize local clothing drives for people of all faiths/none. It is almost an all-volunteer network. Gender-based violence is a known issue—especially for those who have escaped ISIS—but most victims do not talk about it for fear of cultural taboos and/or ISIS.

To lose the presence of Christians in the birthplace/Cradle of Christianity is to accelerate instability in the Middle East. With the region on the brink, those who have fled persecution—including Christians, other religious minorities, and the majority Muslims—need a strategy that works to rescue, restore, and return them to a home where they can practice their faith free from fear. This approach is not only the right thing to do, it is in everyone’s interest to do so for the sake of a peaceful Middle East. To start, we are working to get immediate humanitarian aid to all those suffering. Please consider giving [For more informaiton, please see our FAQ document.]