BY STEPHANIE QUICK (@QUICKLIKESAND)
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region— On the front lines of the ground war against the Islamic State are Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers. The Peshmerga—which translates most directly to “Those Who Face Death” to defend their homeland—face not only the bullets from ISIS jihadis, but unnecessary casualties as a result of inadequate medical care and supplies.
Major General Mohsin Rasheed, the Head of the Peshmerga Ministry of Health, told officials in June 2016 that most Peshmerga casualties in the last two years could have been prevented with proper frontline treatment. He has urged the international community to send more help, as few ground forces are assisting in containing the ISIS borders, but few countries have followed through on their commitments to send trained professionals and medical supplies.
FAI RELIEF, the medical branch of Frontier Alliance International, has strategized with leaders both of the Kurdish military and relief NGOs serving in Iraqi Kurdistan. Michael Reynolds, FAI’s Director of Medical Outreach, developed a three-fold response to the immediate needs of the Kurdish people. “We’re pursuing education, front lines treatment, and a mobile medical clinic. We have developed programs to educate Peshmerga soldiers on how to treat themselves or their colleagues in the event of injury or getting wounded in combat, and we’re sending trained medical professionals and supplies to the soldiers to help reduce their casualty rate. Additionally, we’ll begin sending a mobile medical clinic throughout impoverished areas and refugee camps, where people do not have access to basic medical care.”
Dalton Thomas, Director of FAI, explained what front line medical care looks like: “That doesn’t mean [doctors] are rushing into Mosul for actual combat. What they’re doing is waiting behind the lines so when a soldier is wounded, there are doctors waiting there to care for them.” FAI RELIEF serves as a point of access for Western medical professionals willing to visit Iraqi Kurdistan and serve the three-fold medical initiatives of the organization. “We can’t sit around and wait for the governments of the world to get involved when we can get involved,” Thomas continued. “We’ve built these on-ramps and made them available, and we’ll continue to make them available in an ongoing way.”
Joel Richardson, an author and teacher who serves on FAI's Board of Directors, believes the present crisis provides the Church with a unique opportunity. "The God of the Bible goes out of His way to serve the weak. The broken. The afflicted. The downcast. The hurting. If we live like He lives, treat people like He treats people—it's an incredible opportunity here. Most people here have never heard the Gospel. They've never known someone who lives like this. That kind of witness would have a profound impact on the region here."
As a Christian ministry, FAI’s work is grounded in the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. “Our aim is to preach Christ where He’s not been named,” said Reynolds. “That’s Paul’s plumb line in Romans 15. We’ve developed these relief programs to serve our neighbors, to love our neighbors, to build relationships with them. Most of my neighbors are Peshmerga families. We want to do everything we can to provide a living, tangible witness of the Gospel so there’s credibility when we share with them about Jesus and the nature of God as revealed in the Scriptures.”
While some conservative and evangelical leaders in America have expressed caution relating to those displaced by ISIS and the Syrian Civil War, Richardson believes those who confess the Lordship of Jesus should have a different response. "We are disciples of Jesus. We are followers of Jesus. He laid His life down for not only those impoverished and downtrodden, but for people who outright hated Him. That's our example. That's the God we follow. We either follow Him, or we don't."
Richardson continued, "Years from now, our children and grandchildren will look back at this time in history, at what's now known as the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, and we need to think about what kind of legacy we want to leave for them. So many nations did so little to serve refugees during WWII, and we look back and wonder why. When our kids look back at what we did about ISIS, about Assad, about all the millions of people who lost their homes and livelihoods to the wars, will they honor us—or be ashamed of us?"