Who? Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, the Institute for Global Engagement, Churches, and participating NGOs.
  • What? The rescue, restoration and return of Christians and other persecuted people in the Middle East to a home where they can live and practice their faith free from fear.
  • When? Immediately.
  • Where? Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
  • Why? Because the refugee crisis caused by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria is the biggest “humanitarian emergency of our era” (please see this NPR blog), and yet the world is not responding adequately. So, we are trying to help. Secondarily, we believe that the presence of Christians and other ethno/religious people, especially minorities, is essential for long-term peace and stability in the region. Now, it’s a very real possibility that they could be eliminated from the region entirely. They will have survived terrorists and attempted genocide to be killed by winter.
  • How? Working with Churches and other local and international partners.

Why is it important to support Christians in the Middle East? In general, the two-millennia presence of Christians in the Middle East—through their example of loving all neighbors—contributes to the spiritual and social well-being of societies across the region (not least through well-educated leaders in government and the academy, serving all citizens). As such, they are a bridge between and among different faiths, and traditions within those faiths. Such action, if allowed to flourish, strengthens society by preventing stereotypes that might be manipulated by terrorists; indeed, loving their neighbor enhances the stability of the state.

Equally important, though, Christians in the Middle East serve as a bridge back to Christian-majority countries, helping people like us to better understand their region, and how best to come alongside the people who live there, in support of their solutions.

Why is it important to support principled pluralism in the Middle East? The conflicts in Iraq and Syria result from an inability to live with our deepest differences. In fact, Muslims have suffered the most, the longest. Recently the terrorists have attempted genocide against any Muslim, as well as every ethno-religious minority, that does not believe as they do. We believe that if any approach is to be relevant, it must address this fundamental issue in a meaningful and practical manner.

What is The Cradle Fund (TCF)? TCF is a fund that supports the rescue, restoration, and return of Middle Eastern Christians and other ethno/religious people to a home where they can live and practice their faith free from fear. This strategy is based on the listening to those in the region and organized around the idea that every near-term decision impacts the long-term. Wherever and whenever possible, TCF works with the suffering Church in support of those of all faiths who have suffered.

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey serve as the honorary co-chairs of TCF. The Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) administers the fund.

How was it started? TCF grew out of conversations between Mark Burnett and Roma Downey and the King of Jordan. They were concerned about the plight of Christians and others in the Middle East and wanted to do something practical. Mark & Roma approached Chris Seiple, the President of IGE about working together. Chris then traveled to the region with Mark and Roma’s Chief of Staff Johnnie Moore. They witnessed firsthand the suffering of Christians and other religious minorities, as well as majority Muslims. They also met with many leaders, among them, the King of Jordan, and Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches, who extended an invitation to come alongside the suffering Churches to serve all those suffering. TCF and its supporting strategy was born of this on-the-ground, listening experience.

Wait…Why would a Muslim King care about Christians in the Middle East? Simply put, he believes that Christians are integral to the identity of the Middle East. And he says so repeatedly. For example, check out his recent speech at the UN, where he said: “Islam prohibits violence against Christians and other communities that make up each country. Let me say once again: Arab Christians are an integral part of my region’s past, present, and future.”

Who Knew? That’s encouraging…but what is IGE? IGE is a think-and-do-tank, a Christian organization with global experience building partnerships—and enabling strategies based on consensus—at the complex intersection of religion and geo-politics. It is a non-proselytizing, non-partisan, non-profit organization. It believes that society is more civil, and that the state is more stable, when people have the freedom to believe whatever they want, while respecting those who believe differently.

OK, why the name, “Cradle of Christianity”? The name comes from a report by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. It is a term used by the local Church, referring to the entire region…a region of many faiths where Christianity was born.

Does that mean you work only for Christians? No. As Christians, it is natural that we are concerned by the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ. That being said, we take our lead from Scripture and the local Church, serving all those who suffer, because we believe that each human being bears the image of God. Scripture also teaches us to love all of our neighbors, no matter what they believe. So it should be no surprise that the same Greek Patriarchate document above says that the Church is to “meet the social and economic needs of affected and internally displaced people, as well as preserving the Christian presence.” We agree. TCF serves all those who are suffering, irrespective of faith and/or ethnicity.

We also agree with the document’s description of the local Church: “The Church has never considered itself as a separate body in the society she lives in. Its spiritual message obliges her to meet the spiritual and physical needs to all human beings. For this reason, the Church has erected many educational and medical services to meet the needs of each human being created in the image of God and in no respect to faith or ethnic affiliations. The church believes that education is the cornerstone in building a society structured on respect and love to others.” [emphasis added]

Powerful stuff…but what does the Church know about relief work in a humanitarian crisis? Quite a lot, actually. As a part of the community of which it is a part, the Church knows a great deal about its society and will continue to be there for a long time. Put another way, the Eastern Churches were evangelized by the disciples of Christ. They have been there much longer than any government or NGO, and they will be there long after any government or NGO. The trust they have with—and the knowledge they have of—the local people and their needs is priceless. That is the basis upon which any humanitarian effort must rest.

The question remains, however, as the relief and rescue phase sets the stage for all the other elements crucial to a holistic approach. And without such an approach, there is no possibility for a sustainable solution to take root. As a result, TCF will work through the Churches according to their competencies. TCF will also work with the Church, through NGOs that have relationships with the local Churches and a track record of excellence in relief and development. We call this group of NGOs the “Cradle Council.”

Put another way, the local Church—the original, global, humanitarian NGO—is a trusted, distribution system that knows the people and the terrain best. How could we not work with them?

Interesting, how does an NGO become a Cradle Council member? Membership is open to any organization that agrees with the following principles of engagement:

    Engages at the invitation of local leaders;
  • Works wherever possible with the local Churches, often through pre-existing relationships;
  • Supports the phases of the Cradle Strategy’s (see below);
  • Possesses key competencies related to at least one of the three Cradle Strategy phases;
  • Serves the suffering of all people, irrespective of religious and/or ethnic identity;
  • Does not proselytize; and,
  • Seeks unity of effort in identifying and prioritizing needs, honing the Cradle Strategy, and raising money, together.

Let’s unpack that a bit…first, why should I give to TCF instead of any other place? You should give as your heart leads. That being said, here are some differentiating characteristics to our approach that, when combined, make for a unique effort. TCF is:

    Responding to the invitation of regional leaders to work with a suffering Church in the service of the suffering;
  • Taking a strategic approach, thinking near- and long-term;
  • Engaging regionally, working with different NGOs in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere;
  • Working through the local church where possible—in a non-proselytizing manner—in order to serve communities of all faiths and none; and,
  • Calling attention to the plight of the suffering, by sounding the global trumpet of Mark & Roma’s media platform, and acting as an honest broker, ensuring that the money raised is used strategically.

Tell me more about this strategy, please: Well, it’s based on the listening that we did in the region and with the various experts in our own country. Our strategy is organized around a simple premise: every near-term decision impacts the long-term. We seek to build a diverse coalition around the need to help people survive in the near-term, trusting that a core group of individuals and institutions will emerge, committed to the region for the long-term. There are three phases to this living strategy, which the Cradle Council will hone as it goes:

    Rescue: Do whatever it takes to get individuals and families through the winter—e.g., support displaced and refugee families, subsidize rent, winterize buildings/tents;
  • Restore: Provide for the spiritual and emotional health of societies by: Documenting stories of hope and courage, through video evidence and testimony that will deter the worst of the past and inspire the best of the future; Enabling resiliency through education, curricula development, and programs that address trauma (especially gender-based violence), entrepreneurialism, and religion and the rule of law; and,
  • Return: Work toward returning individuals and families to a home where they can live and practice their faith freely, to include: Their own homes, from which they fled, which would require international monitoring and military protection; Homes in neighboring countries, where they could stay as citizens, still in the Middle East, ready for a future chance to return to their original homes; and, Homes in countries outside of the Middle East.

No one can deny those who have experienced attempted genocide the opportunity to leave the region if they so desire (and if there is opportunity to do so). But it is also true that no one can deny that the Middle East will be a weaker place in the absence of Christianity and other religious minorities.

Alright, the case is compelling…but let’s get down to the nitty-gritty questions. First, before I forget, you mentioned proselytization. What’s wrong with sharing one’s faith? Nothing is wrong with sharing one’s faith. That said, there is tension between the Eastern (Orthodox and Catholic) Churches and Western (Protestant) Churches. For example, when Chris Seiple and Johnnie Moore met with the Patriarchs, one of the Patriarchs asked: “You’re not coming to proselytize us are you? You know we’re Christian.” Chris and Johnnie emphasized that they came in the spirit of John 13:34-35 and Ephesians 5:21, seeking to submit to and serve the local Churches.

Second, in providing relief to vulnerable populations, the perception is too easily made that a faith-based NGO is providing food in order to proselytize, taking advantage of a refugee’s situation. That’s why most faith-based relief and development NGOs have signed international covenants not to proselytize.

Makes sense…next question: How do I know my money will be used in an accountable manner? Exactly the right question, and one with which we have wrestled with, given the complexity of the region. Here is our process of partnership which vets financial accountability, operational capability and future responsibility to the strategy. Cradle Council members:

    Follow the best practices of all charities by participating in financial “watchdog” oversight, providing audited financial statements to donors, submitting Form 990s to the IRS, through which they are scored and evaluated;
  • Support the principles of engagement identified above;
  • Submit a proposal of the work they will do, consistent with those principles;
  • Sign a legally binding agreement with IGE to do what they said they will do;
  • Report on their grant-related expenditures to IGE accounting for every dime of Cradle money used.
  • Agree to raise money for their own organization to further advance the Cradle principles of engagement.

Well, I guess that’s about all you can do…what if you don’t work for an NGO working in the Middle East, is there another way to be affiliated with this effort? Absolutely! We also have a group called the “Cradle Friends.” Friends are individuals or institutions worldwide that want to raise money and/or speak on this issue to their local/national communities.

Interesting, so I and/or my Church/house of worship could do something in our local context? You bet! There is much you can do! Consider the following:

    Pray daily—with specificity and intentionality—for specific Cradle partners and the communities they are working in (we can send you specific prayer requests);
  • Give financially;
  • Speak on behalf of this issue to local clubs, gathering, universities;
  • Mobilize your Church/house of worship for action; we can help develop a strategic engagement plan for you and your Church/house of worship. For example, we hope to develop some basic outlines and/or talking points that you might tailor to your needs regarding: A four-part, small group mini-series, supported by scripture, questions, and video; Sermon notes that might help your pastor; An external engagement strategy outside your Church to other houses of worship, perhaps organized around gifts-in-kind (e.g., blankets and clothes) that your community might give through a Cradle partner; All of which might lead to your Church developing a sibling relationship with a Church and/or community in the Middle East, exchanging visits, etc.