Christmas for Refugees in Iraq
Christmas parties in Iraq:
The first Christmas for Refugees Christmas party was held on December 14 in Qaraqosh, also known by its Assyrian name of Baghdida. Unlike in Lebanon, these are not “events”, they are parties.
In one word, Iraqi Christians celebrate Christmas ‘loud.” Every child shows up in the best clothing their families can find which is often donated. The common theme is the colors red and white, and Santa Claus is displayed even in churches at Christmas time. This is done because Christmas is theirs, it is the one thing that cannot be taken from them.
Of the first event in Qaraqosh, I can honestly say that my ears rang at the end of the party for Jesus’ birthday. The Religious Freedom Coalition supplies the funding and direction, but the flavor of the Christmas parties is determined by the local ministry that provides the service. They understand the children of their community far better than we do and know best how to reach them for Jesus. In Iraq there are lots of clowns at Christmas parties as well.
Here are some numbers from the first Christmas party in Iraq that may surprise you, but should give the scope of the events Christmas for Refugees is responsible for:
546 children aged six to twelve
attended the Qaraqosh Christmas party
32 volunteers from local churches helped (including for escorted restroom breaks)
11 paid staff from our ministry partner performed various functions
5 hired “laborers” helped with stage, sound, video setup, chairs, etc.
9 employees were from the venue we rented – including food preparation and distribution
We buy all services and products locally to help the economy there. The Christmas party in Qaraqosh not only encouraged the children but furnished income for local people. In addition, gifts were given to all the volunteers.
The length of each event varies depending on location and the difficulty in returning children to their homes. In Qaraqosh this process was relatively simple and the party lasted almost four hours, with different types of entertainment and of course the real reason for Christmas, the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
More than 1,500 children attended the three events held in Iraq while I was present. Every event was centered on Jesus, from coloring contests to puppet shows. Even traditional line dances for Christmas were about the Lord. Christmas for Refugees is about hope, and considering the devastation that has been done to Christian towns on the Nineveh Plain, these children really needed the hope and joy that can come from events such as these.
Celebration in the midst of devastation:
In Qaraqosh and Bartella the rooms we used for the Christmas parties were in recently renovated commercial centers. The rooms were built for weddings and other social events. Just on the other side of the street from both locations, other buildings still lie in rubble.
Our ministry driver, Karam, was formerly a wealthy businessman in Qaraqosh. He owned a large machine shop with his brother. The brothers had beautiful attached homes next to each other. Every machine was stolen and the shop buildings for the business destroyed.
Karam’s family home was lived in by Islamic State fighters until they were forced to retreat. The last thing they did was start a fire in his home fueled with C-4 that melted the metal beams in the walls. His business and home destroyed, he now drives a van for our ministry partner, one that is used for diaper distributions.
The Christmas parties in Iraq are so large it is difficult to get one photo that shows all the children attending a Christmas party. In Erbil we had rented a room with a balcony and I was able to get a photo that showed most of the kids. The tables at right and left were later used for games and for the meal.
There are hundreds more great photos of the Christmas parties and events in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Nigeria at our special Internet site at ChristmasForRefugees.org. Just click on “mission photos” in the navigation bar.
There are also articles posted that include videos, at both Christmas4Refugees.org and ReligiousFreedomCoalition.org sites. Many of the best photos and videos are also posted at Facebook.com/ChristmasForRefugees.
Jordan and Syria:
There is just not enough room in four pages for all that happened this Christmas. In the next newsletter I will report on our Christmas events in Jordan and Syria