Iraq: Two Trips One Year

If you would have told us at the beginning of 2016 that in the course of the coming year we would take two individual teams to IRAQ – we would have been quite surprised.  But thats exactly what happened.

World Vision and PreEmptive Love Coalition each had compelling stories of refugees which needed to be told. This required our team to increase our level of expertise in covering stories in conflict zones as well as challenge our own fears.



A story from Sulaymaniyah, Iraq with Faris – a local soapmaker

Early one chilly morning, Mackenzie and I are standing on the 4th floor of a partially constructed brutalist building on the outskirts of Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan (Iraq). Each floor is an empty shell with square glass windows, concrete pillars and floors. Once intended to be a hotel – today this vacant structure has become a home for families fleeing from ISIS.

Faris. a rugged Yazidi man, smokes a cigarette as he points to the staircase. When he lived here, 18 families were also sharing the building. No running water or railings on the stairs. His son fell down the staircase through the hole to the floor below, landing on his head. It was a very difficult time.

Today, only one family is still living in this building. We see the blue tarps they have rigged as walls to create rooms with privacy for their family. How they stay warm is a mystery. What shocks us even more is that one hour into our filming, a man appears carrying a tray ofhot tea. One for each member of our crew. Let me get this straight… a homeless refugee family is bringing us tea… after we show up at their building basically unannounced on a Saturday morning. Middle Eastern hospitality at its best.

“Yes, we all have our own politics. Yes, we have our own religion. Love anyway. Step out across enemy lines and embrace conflict rather than run. Your love has the ability to transcend guilt, shame, and indifference. Wrap your arms around those you fear, and invite others to do the same.”

–Preemptive Love Coalition



On August 4, 2014 Faris and his family was driven from his home near the Iraqi-Syrian border in an area called Sinjar. You may be familiar with the girls that ISIS took as slaves – many of them where taken from the specific ethnic group Faris belongs to. When Faris and his family escaped across the desert the only thing his children had to drink was their mother’s tears. The babies literally licked tears from their mothers checks. But that tragic escape was just the beginningbecause Faris had to find a way to support a family of 14. He has 7 kids, his wife, mother, and 3 sister-in-laws.

Before the conflict, Faris spent his whole life watching other able-bodied men protect his community, harvest food for the table, and bring home money to support his own family because he simply could not work.

Faris has a disease which has given him a weak immune system. Because of this, he can’t do a lot of manual labor with out a huge health risk. In Yadzi culture, most men are farmers and construction workers, so it was evident from an early age that he would have to learn a different way to provide for his family. But things took an unexpected turn, when he fled Sinjar to the relative peace of Kurdistan.

“If you think ‘refugee’ equals ‘weak,’ then you don’t know these men.”

During our first trip to Erbil, we joined Steve Haas from World Vision for dinner with Jeremy and Jessica Courtney of PreEmptive Love Collation. They were in the midst of co-ordinating relief for the citizens of Fallujah during the seize during May-June 2016. We were struck by both their bravery in co-ordinating aid on the frontline as well as the soap-making startups they were supporting refugees in. The name of one particular soap maker stuck with us: Faris.

So six months later when Willow Creek invited us to return to Iraq to create a piece with PreEmptive Love we jumped at the chance.

Using the “Aleppo recipe” as Jessica calls it, PLC has been sourcing local ingredients for industrious entrepreneurs to manufacture soap in their homes using hand-crafted techniques to sell locally and abroad. Sisterhood Soap and Kinsman Soap are their two brands, which are made with chamomile tea, charcoal, olive oil or other natural ingredients.

Jessica was holding meeting for local refugee women about soap-making and in the back of the room was Faris. Looking for opportunities to continue to provide for his family, he jumped in. What began as a few bars of soap being made in the family living room has grown to a warehouse full of soap with deliveries by the truck full. His entrepreneurial spirit has him making sales calls as far away as Baghdad and he just completed an order for 25,000 bars for Willow Creeks Celebration of Hope in Chicago, allowing him to feed not only his family but 100 people from their neighborhood who gather in his backyard every Saturday for lunch.

He has just saved enough money to rebuild the family home in Sinjar – and as soon as it is declared safe enough, he plans to return.



Experiencing ISIS through the eyes of a 26-year-olf priest in Northern Iraq



World Vision, one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance in the world today, has a vision to help leaders take on the greatest needs of our day. So they reached out to the Willow Creek Association, convenor of the Global Leadership Summit – the largest leadership gathering in the world with over 300K+ attendees globally. Together, these two significant organziations are supporting  fearless leaders that have responded to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today: the Global Refugee Crisis.

The refugee crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Over 65 million people – half of them children – forced from their homes. The relative peace and security of their cities and neighborhoods has been disrupted by a huge influx of people who threaten the normal way of life of the people who lived there “first.”

In our initial conversations, World Vision told us to “go beyond our typical story of a child, and tell the story that creates an overwhelming feeling in the Summit audience so they have no choice but to respond.”

One middle- eastern pastor told us: “If you want to hear the bad news go to CNN or FOX news. If you want to see [a good} version of what is happening… come and see what is going on in our area.”

So that’s what we did.

Our film crew flew into northern Iraq – the Kurdistan region, 30km from Mosul – to document the story of Father Daniel, a 26-year old Iraqi priest who has boldly opened the doors of his small parish in Kurdistan to house 1,600+ refugees fleeing the conflict of nearby Mosul.

World Vision is on the frontlines of the Refugee Crisis, bringing hope and dignity to refugee families living in some of the most difficult conditions. They’re also empowering some of the finest leaders in the world to do what they are called to do. The WCA is committed to supporting and training these same great leaders wherever they are found.  OX is proud to support them both.


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