Evangelical Christians have offered Bibles to internally displaced Kurdish Yezidis in aid camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, asking the refugees to convert to Christianity in order to start a new life in the West.
Some went in under the guise of aid workers, while others had only Bibles and prayers on offer. Even though this shocked many observers, the alarm that Yezidi parliamentarian Vian Dakhil raised was mainly followed by a resounding silence.
The only consequence so far has been an attempt by authorities to control who goes in and out of the camps by demanding a permit. This hampers the work of journalists reporting on the Yezidi issue, because a different permit now is needed for all the different camps.
Yet the permit-system does not deal with the moral issue: how can anyone who knows what the Yezidis suffered in the hands of radical Islamists of ISIS, and how precious their already threatened religion is to them, confront them with conversion?
The International Christian Aid Mission is reportedly happy about the results. The group says of those internally displaced people (IDPs) it has converted in the past months, are Yezidis in the Kurdish provinces Erbil and Duhok.
“Among all displaced peoples the ministry has reached out in the Erbil and Duhok areas in the past six months, about 80 families have put their trust in Christ. These are large families of seven to 10 people each,” the mission said.
According to these figures, of those 800 people, just less than 600 are Yezidi. “It was very far and very difficult for us to go there to reach these people,” the evangelical minister who managed the conversions said. “So, the Lord just brought them to us.”
I am reminded of ISIS, a group that wants to convert anyone who is not part of their own radical corner of Islam – because presumably it is what Allah asks of them, so they will be rewarded in paradise.
The evangelicals caught Yezidis in their nets for exactly the same reason: the reward in heaven. Bible groups in the US have been raising money to take the Holy Book to the IDPs. One of these claims on its website to have provided food, blankets and Bibles to 20,000 refugees in Erbil, and asks for another $20,000 to do more.
Well, at least this group also brought materials that were badly needed. Others only raise money for Bibles for people who have lost all their worldly goods. The problem is that these people target a very vulnerable group: a displaced population willing to accept any way out of their misery.
Most are so eager to leave the region and the danger of ISIS, they will accept any offer. Take for example the Yezidi boy in Duhok, who found work shining shoes. According to the Christian Aid Mission, both of his sisters were kidnapped by ISIS and the rest of the family escaped to the Kurdistan region.
He is said to have told his story with tears. His dad was reportedly paralyzed because of what happened to the family when ISIS kicked them out. The boy hadn’t eaten for four days.
“Members of the ministry team prayed with him and asked if they could visit his family and pray for his father.He took them to their tent on the street. We prayed with them. We said Jesus can heal, and they immediately gave their hearts to the Lord,” the minister said.
They promise healing for a paralyzed man and a way out for the desperate – no wonder people fall into the trap. But most Christians do not agree with these practises. They probably love their faith just as much, but feel if people want to change their religion, they will find their own way to do so.
Bringing religion to vulnerable people, who mistake a new faith for a way to a better life, is not a moral thing to do. Of the Christian aid organisations active in the region, most work out of solidarity. As long as they do not just bring their kindness in order to win souls, that is fine.
But they should not pass the thin line between offering aid and offering faith. Yet churches and Christian leaders in Kurdistan stayed silent in all the recent upheaval. And when I asked some of them to discuss it, they refused.
One pastor told me he would not “get involved in this issue with the media.” The problem is the way these radicals’ behaviour rubs off on other Christians. Who will trust a Christian again, if they are seen as trying to convert the most vulnerable?
If Christians expect Muslims to eliminate their radical elements, should they not do the same themselves? The way evangelicals behave is an issue for all Christians.
By Judit Neurink