The Rev. Kazimierz (Kaz) Bem is the Pastor of the First Church in Marlborough (Congregational).
On Tuesday, August 19th, an ecumenical group of 50 clergy and laity - from Assyrian Church of the East, Bahai, Greek Orthodox, Episcopal, Roman Catholic and United Church of Christ congregations - gathered at the Greek Orthodox Church of Saints Anargyroi in Marlborough to listen to Dr. Sargon Donabed, assistant professor of history at Roger Williams University. Donabed talked about the current situation of Iraqi Christians - their history, what is happening, and what can be done. Thirteen UCC congregations form Central Massachusetts were represented at the gathering.
"You help them" Dr. Donabed said "by donating to organizations like The ACERO (www.theacero.org) which is working on the ground in North Iraq and are helping not just the Christians but all the displaced refugees including the Yazidis and Shia Muslims too. You can help them by raising awareness. You can also help by calling and contacting your representatives in Congress and telling them that their plight is important to you."
UCC congregations are organizing to help. Emergency donations have been made already by the Congregational Church of Westborough, Park Congregational Church in Worcester and First Church in Marlborough UCC. Other churches like Pilgrim Congregational in Leominster, First Congregational Church in Millbury, First Congregational Church in Shrewsbury, and Pilgrim Congregational Church in Southborough are planning events, collections or fundraisers in the coming days. Labor Day celebrations are a good time for raising awareness and collecting funds to aid the displaced Christians and others. Other congregations expressed interest in helping too.
Earlier in June the Islamic State in Levant (ISIL) captured Mosul in Iraq and gave the Christians there a choice: convert to Islam or die. In a Nazi-like style, the houses of Christians were marked with the letter “N”, short for “Nazarene”, a term used to describe Christians. All who could – fled. Few weeks later ISIL overran the remaining Christian villages in the area. Over 100 000 Christian Assyrians fled and are now refugees, trapped in the hills of Northern Iraq. 2000 year old churches and monasteries with priceless manuscripts were purposely destroyed. This campaigning of ethnic and religious cleansing is another genocide happening in front of our eyes.
This is not the first genocide that befell the Assyrian Christians. In 1914/1915 they were the victims of the Assyrian genocide that claimed ca. 400,000 people and decimated their populations in today’s Eastern Turkey and Iran. Back then Congregational missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions like Ruth Parmelee or Ernest Yarrow were among those who alarmed the world public opinion to the atrocities suffered by our fellow Christians through letters and press articles. Money was raised and aid was given to help those Assyrian refugees who survived to resettle and rebuild their lives.
Another fruit of the Tuesday meeting is that plans are being made for an ecumenical service in Worcester later in October to pray for peace in the area, raise awareness about the minorities in Northern Iraq and raise funds for the refugees. If your church is interested in joining or participating, please contact me at First Church in Marlborough for more information.
Editor's note: The United Church of Christ is encouraging contributions toward relief through One Great Hour of Sharing by noting "Iraqi displaced peoples" in the comment field. More information can also be found on the Global Ministries website here and here.
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