It is time for optimism

On 24th December, the Iraqi Government announced that Christmas Day would be an official national holiday for all  Iraqis. A few days later, the Grand Mufti of Iraq (the country’s most senior Sunni cleric) issued a fatwa to his followers forbidding them to “congratulate Christians during Christmas” or participate in New Year celebrations. Such is the quandary of Iraq. On the one hand, it is a multi-ethnic democracy striving for peace, prosperity and stability. On the other, it is a complex patchwork of sectarian division.

Despite the challenges that lie ahead, we are optimistic about 2019. It is over a year since Islamic State was routed from the north of the country. While the terror group remains a nebulous threat still capable of mounting attacks, it has lost its foothold in Iraq. Indeed, nearly all the territory it annexed has been recaptured. Many of the Christians who had fled have since returned to their villages. Rebuilding is taking place, albeit there are still no jobs. Our Nineveh SEED programme aims to address the issue of job creation. More about that here.

Some things to be thankful for

In Jordan, after years of waiting, two of the refugee families we helped were finally granted asylum to live in Australia. Marlene and her family now live in Melbourne, as do Salimand his family. The hardship and uncertainty both families experienced after their flight from Iraq was heartbreaking. Having helped both families with rent assistance, food coupons and clothing, we are delighted they can make a new life in Australia (currently the only Western country accepting Iraqi Christians with open arms).

Our lobbying efforts are also bearing fruit. Last year we met with key people in the British Government and Parliament and travelled to Brussels to meet with MEPs and like-minded NGOs. In sharing our frontline knowledge with decision-makers, we continue to advocate for the refugees in our care. Our message is starting to resonate (even the Deputy Ambassador to Iraq has started sharing our content on Twitter). There is a growing desire to help Iraq’s persecuted minorities rebuild their communities. As one Christian man told us in northern Iraq: “It’s not possible for us all to migrate.”

Going forward, dialogue is key

Reconciliation work is a long, slow-burning process. The fatwa against Christians shows how trenchant some people are. However, not everyone thinks this way. The Head of the Sunni Endowment Authority in Iraq described the Grand Mufti’s comments as “offensive, irrational and unacceptable.” The man behind this retort, Sheikh Abdul Latif Al Heymem, attended our Copenhagen Peace Summit a few years ago. It is people like him and respected Shia cleric, Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr, who we will work with going forward.

Next week we will update you on the Iraqi refugees in Jordan. We help these people through four church partners in Amman and Madaba. In the meantime, we hope you will renew your commit to us in 2019 through prayer and donations. Our work, from the health clinic at St George’s in Baghdad to our refugee football project in northern Iraq, is funded primarily by our supporters. Help us make 2019 a year of hope, restoration and reconciliation!

Supporting our work in the Middle East

To support our work in Iraq and Jordan helping displaced and persecuted Christians and other minorities, please make a donation now via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Or you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. To support our future work, please consider leaving a legacy (more info here). Thank you.