VERNON BREWER DELIVERS MESSAGE OF HOPE TO PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS AT ‘RETURN FESTIVAL,’ LARGEST CHRISTIAN GATHERING SINCE ISIS CAPTURED CHRISTIAN VILLAGES ACROSS NORTHERN IRAQ
More than 300 Iraqi communities were represented at the Return Festival, where Iraqi Christians prayed for the future of their country.
ERBIL, Iraq — In the town of Erbil, barely 50 miles from where the Iraqi government offensive to retake Mosul is underway, Vernon Brewer, president and founder of World Help, delivered a message of hope to thousands of Iraqi Christians gathered for the “Return Festival,” a day of prayer, held Friday, Nov. 18, that marked the largest gathering of Christians since ISIS captured the predominantly Christian villages across northern Iraq.
Brewer was the only Westerner invited to speak at the event. More than 300 Iraqi Christian communities were represented and prayed for at the gathering; many in attendance had been displaced by ISIS.
“The resilience of the Christian community in Iraq is incredible,” said Brewer of his experience at the Return Festival. “Despite all they have seen and suffered, the Christians in Iraq haven’t lost all hope. They have been knocked down; they have been defeated. Many of them have had to leave their homes with just the clothes on their back. Amidst all the terrible atrocities they have witnessed and even in the face of genocide, they haven’t lost hope.”
The Return Festival was planned as a multi-denominational and multi-ethnic gathering of Iraqi Christians to seek reconciliation with one another, to consecrate the land through prayer, and to renew their commitment to promoting peace in Iraq.
Brewer also challenged the Iraqi Christians to see themselves as part of the answer to the conflict unfolding in their country.
“If we truly understand this truth—that underneath a conflict obscured by politics and fear are people who desperately need our help, we will move beyond guilt and pity and start practicing an authentic brand of compassion, one that actively meets people where they are instead of simply hoping someone else will do the job,” Brewer said in his speech to the assembled crowd.
The event was highly symbolic. The story of Christian persecution at the hands of ISIS was retold through dramatic performances, while dancers and choirs, accompanied by worship music, captured the undying hope of the Christian faith. The event also included a procession of flags, each representing a Christian community, and a large white cross, formed by people sitting on the floor.
Pastor Farouk Hammo from Baghdad and Henry Aoun, who is the Middle East director for Life Agape, also delivered messages of hope and encouragement. Toward the end of the event, thousands of prayers, written on paper and attached to balloons, were released into the evening sky as a symbol of the Christians’ pleas reaching heaven.
A video with highlights of the event and comments from Brewer and the event’s organizer is available here.
During this most recent trip to Iraq, Brewer also visited the Khazar refugee camp, where World Help delivered four trucks of food and humanitarian aid to the 50,000 refugees stranded there. He also visited the village of Hassan Sham outside Mosul, now abandoned because of damage and the threat of buried IEDs left by ISIS.
A video of Brewer’s visit to the camp and footage of Hassan Sham is available here.
With winter coming and the offensive against Mosul expanding, it’s expected that by Christmas the number of displaced people in the Khazar camp will top 100,000. With this in mind, World Help is now raising funds to deliver 1 million meals to the refugees in the camp.
*B-roll footage from Vernon’s trip to Iraq, including his participation in the Return Festival and visits to the Khazar camp and the Hassan Sham village, is available here.
World Help is a Christian humanitarian organization committed to serving the physical and spiritual needs of people in impoverished communities around the world. It was founded in 1991 by Vernon Brewer.
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