As Iraqi coalition forces claw their way into Mosul, the retreating ISIS fighters have booby trapped streets, sent suicide bombers against the liberating army, and used civilians as human shields.
The civilians left in their wake are hungry, thirsty, terrified, and exhausted.
One of the first humanitarian groups to aid Iraq’s once second-largest city, moving in even as ISIS moves out, has been a group of persecuted Christians from Burma (also known as Myanmar).
Free Burma Rangers (FBR) is a Christian group originally formed to bring humanitarian aid to the Burmese minorities displaced by ongoing persecution from their military government. Led by David Eubank, a former US Army Ranger officer, the group supplies medical assistance, food, and shelter to combat areas. It also documents human rights abuses.
Members of FBR began working in the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Syria two years ago. The Burmese nationals and American volunteers have provided medical care, food, and water to Iraqis that were fleeing ISIS or recently liberated. They have evacuated and treated the wounded in an Iraqi supply truck ambushed by ISIS, prayed with a man whose family was killed by friendly fire, and provided programming for school children in northern Syria and northern Iraq.
CT spoke with Eubank, whose answers are brief because he was in Mosul outskirts, and FBR operations coordinator Hosannah Valentine about why Burmese Christians have traded their own conflict zone for another.
CT: FBR is set up to help oppressed people in Burma/Myanmar. How did you decide to add a ministry to Kurdistan?
DE: I was asked to come and help in February 2015 by a friend, Victor Marx of ATP ministries. I was on a relief mission in Burma, and he set me an email via a satellite link and asked us to come in seven days. But the Burma army was blocking us, and it [had taken] me three weeks walking to get where we were. We prayed, and the next day all the Burma army units moved. We walked 80 miles in three days, and then were able to get to a border, cross it, and get to Kurdistan in seven days—a miracle for us and a sign God wanted us there. Once in Kurdistan, I asked God what to do and felt he said, “Give up your own way and the FBR way, and come help these [Kurdish] people.” I have three prayers: that ISIS is stopped, people are freed, and the hearts of all enemies will change to love in Jesus’ name.
HV: We were invited to go see the situation and see if our experience in Burma could be useful in Kurdistan. We had already begun thinking through the idea of missions outside of Burma, to other oppressed people, and had gone to Sudan to help the Nuba people in 2014. We saw the value of oppressed people from Burma coming to help oppressed people in Sudan. The ethnic FBR members connected with the people there in a special way, born of having a shared experience of living through oppression, and still having joy and freedom. This same dynamic happens in Iraq as well.
However, international missions haven't been a formulaic policy decision, but the following of what we feel is a specific call of God to individual situations. As Dave said, we received an invitation to visit Kurdistan and a series of events happened that seemed to really be God opening the door to the opportunity—both being able to race through Kachin State on the heels of a moving Burma army force and financial support to make the missions happen.