Driven out by the militant Muslim group ISIS, thousands of displaced Christians from Iraq’s Nineveh Plain — those lucky enough to have escaped with their lives — are refugees in other parts of Iraq, including Kurdistan.
Many, if not most, of the Christians will be forced to leave Iraq forever, but some are determined to stay and see that Christianity maintains a living presence in some of the places that first heard the message of the Apostles.
In America, there are those determined to help. They can’t work a miracle, but you have to start somewhere.
Chaldean Catholic Bishop Mar Bawai Soro resides at the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in El Cajon, in San Diego County. It serves approximately 60,000 Catholics in several western states who are part of the Chaldean or Assyrian Rite. Many are immigrants from the Middle East, especially Iraq and Iran.
Bishop Soro was formerly a bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East. A longtime advocate of the primacy of the Apostolic See of Rome — he proudly displays thick albums of photos of the times he has met Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis — Bishop Soro was received into the Catholic Church in January 2008.
He recently joined forces with Kingdom Special Operations, a Las Vegas-based private security company. Staffed by former intelligence officers and military Special Forces members, it goes on assignments worldwide for the U.S. government and other entities.
But the CEO of Kingdom, Orange County native Roger Flores, is a Catholic and a Knight of Columbus, and he has always maintained that part of Kingdom’s mission is to help his fellow Christians.
Flores and his compatriots have spent much of their adult lives living in tents and similar structures in war zones and disaster areas, and he wants better for the Christians currently living in refugee camps.
“Our commitment,” said Flores, “is to build a suitable transitional location away from harm.”
Kingdom Special Operations is financially and physically managing the project in the U.S. and abroad, committing to build 50 prefab homes to sustain Christians and their families.
“These are homes that can withstand grueling desert winds and climate,” he said. “We will also build infrastructure for power, water, food, medical, sanitation and security.”
Bishop Soro explained that those being helped by Kingdom Special Operations wish to stay in Iraq.
“They are in Erbil, in Dohuk, in the cities of Kurdistan. They are people who were forced to leave Basra, Baghdad, the Plain of Mosul, and they all went to the north because of the security there,” Bishop Soro explained.
“Many of them would like to remain in Iraq, for a number of reasons, because they want to keep Christianity flowing,” he said. “They are more thinking of their fate and destiny than of their personal benefit or children or family.”
Bishop Soro acknowledged that the majority of Iraqi Christians want to leave Iraq, but called those who want to stay “heroes” who should be helped.
Flores’ plan is to partner with a company in Indonesia that will supply prefabricated homes, five of which can be packed into one shipping container. Using land provided by local churches, the homes can be used to establish safer and more sustainable communities for vulnerable Christian populations.
While Bishop Soro is willing to help those who stay, he cannot, in good conscience, tell them to do so.
“As a church leader,” he said, “I will not encourage anybody to stay. You know why? Not that I do not want them to stay, or I want them to leave … no, it’s a lot of responsibility. I cannot take that responsibility.”
Bishop Soro thinks, if these Christians do want to stay, Kurdistan may be the place, calling it the “only hope” for those who wish to remain in Iraq.
“They need a permanent government to protect them,” he said. “They need law and order. The most suitable place would be Kurdistan. We’re talking about a year or two transitional arrangement.”
And as much as they need a roof over their heads, Iraq’s Christians need hope.
“What we’re trying to do,” said Flores, “is give other Christians a little bit of hope. Without hope, there’s nothing. You have to have hope.”