The Middle East Council of Churches and its programs serving Iraqi Refugees in JordanWritten by Ms. Wafaa Goussous
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) has offered relief to Iraqis through the Emergency Relief Services (ERS) Program since the mid-1990s when Iraq was under international sanctions. Many of those who fled Iraq during Desert Storm [the war to liberate Kuwait] and the period of sanctions that followed went to Jordan. Their needs were great and the MECC responded. During the current war and occupation, Jordan again has accepted Iraqi refugees, and the MECC has worked with the churches in Jordan to provide the necessary relief to them. The following is a summary of the kinds of work the MECC has been undertaking in partnership with local churches. [-editor]
During 2006, the MECC began meeting with church leaders in Jordan to discuss the possibilities and best ways to implement a project in order to help the neediest of the Christian Iraqis who were forced to leave their country, and who sought a safer place in the neighboring countries. Through these assessments, we found that the number of Iraqis exceeded expectations. The number, as reported by church leaders was about 15,000. After several meetings, we decided to administer the program through the churches and indirectly by MECC staff because the churches are in a natural position to help the Iraqis. Some of them had in fact already done so in different ways.
Following are the main churches with which the Middle East Council of Churches has cooperated:
The Latin Catholic Bishopric of Jordan
This bishopric has had a long standing ministry for Iraqis in Jordan. According to their data, over 80% of the Iraqis Christians are very poor after leaving home. Whereas while in Iraq they were well off, now they find themselves in poor circumstances and in serious need. One church leader related that this situation causes them to lose hope. In some cases, even their faith and their moral and Christian values are affected. He added that it is the duty and task of the churches to support and strengthen their faith. One way this can be done by providing relief supplies such as food medicine and educational assistance. The bishopric identified 225 needy families with the funds they were given. They have provided food to most of them and some cash assistance. This assistance has helped to alleviate some of the pressures they face and to deal with serious needs.
The Greek Catholic Bishopric of Jordan
This bishopric used to be responsible for the Greek Catholic congregation in Baghdad, so it was natural for Greek Catholic (and other) Iraqis who fled to Amman came and sought help from the bishopric. Most have come since May, 2003, but some came even before that. The bishopric identified 76 families who are served and ministered to in several ways. With the available funds, they were able to help these families meet some of their daily needs: the cash helped them to pay rent, buy medicine and food, and some of the educational costs for the children.
The Syrian Orthodox Church of Amman
This church cares for a large number of Iraqis Christians composed not only of Syrian Orthodox but also of Assyrian, Armenian, and Chaldean Christians—a total of roughly 164 needy families. Father Emmanuel Istifan Al-Bana, himself an Iraqi, is a very active and dedicated priest ministering and serving the Iraqis Christians who fled the war. These Iraqis are trying to emigrate, thinking of Amman as a transitional stop, hoping that one day some embassy will give them an immigrant visa. While they wait, they try to find a job, to cope with the stresses of living in Jordan. In many cases, the church is not only a place of worship but also a gathering place, a place of fellowship where they share concerns, problems and joys.
The Greek Orthodox Bishopric of Jordan
This bishopric has identified 67 needy families. It has served and ministered like other churches in Jordan to a large Christian Iraqi population. Funds have helped this church to extend their ministry a bit further. Cash grants to families enabled them to meet some of the daily costs of living such as rent, grocery, and clothing. The church also gave them a gift at Easter, demonstrating Christian solidarity. His Grace Metropolitan Vendiktos has oversees this program.
The Sacred Heart Parish of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Amman
This parish is composed completely of Chaldean Catholic Iraqis. The priest is appointed by HB Emmanuel Delli, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, and serves as his assistant in Jordan. Father Remon is dedicated to his ministry and to Iraqis in several congregations. When funds became available, he formed a committee to distribute the food the church had purchased since the number of Christian Iraqi families was much greater than expected. Accordingly, they have distributed food parcels to 200 families not only in Amman but also in a surrounding five suburbs and the two towns of Zarqa and Fohais . Father Remon communicates his concern for these Iraqis and his appreciation to the MECC and its partners for the support they have given and the solidarity they have demonstrated.
The Church of the Savior
The Church of the Savior is Greek Orthodox. It has allocated assistance to 26 individual families through the efforts of Father George Bargel and MECC staff. These families received food items under Father George's supervision.
Assistance to Iraqi Children
Through an Iraqi nun who has a ministry with Iraqi children, one of the Catholic Church schools was opened the in the afternoons for children who, according to the Jordanian Ministry of Education, cannot go to school unless they have a residence permit. Many of them don't have permits, of course, so this nun found teachers who volunteered to teach. A small bus brings them to school and takes them back home. The nun and her team are investing in the lives of many children through educational and recreational programs to help them cope with the changes they are facing, and their new situation as refugees not knowing what the future has for them. For the first time since the 2003, the school organized a picnic and bought them summer T-shirts. A special fund was provided to the nun to support a summer camp for the children in 2008.
Through these particular church programs, more than 810 Iraqi families have received support.