Iraq and North Carolina are separated by more than 6,500 miles. But recently, more than 100 students and teachers at SouthLake Christian Academy slept on the school’s playground and in its hallways as a sign of solidarity with Iraqis and Syrians who have been forced out of their homes and into refugee camps.
The Islamic State of Iraq has displaced more 200,000 Christians in the Nineveh Plains near the Iraqi-Syrian border since the militants’ rise to power in August 2014. attribution
To bring awareness to this situation, SouthLake partnered with Barnabas Aid, an organization designed to meet the needs of the global Christian community.
“Our goal is that we as a community come to an awareness of their situation,” says Clay Thompson, the director of spiritual life at the academy and the leader of the event.
Every year, SouthLake devotes a week in the spring, known as “Missions Week,” to raise money for an evangelistic purpose.
Normally, the student body of about 750 youths in kindergarten through 12th grade have an upbeat mood toward the annual festivities. But this year, Thompson made an effort to alter the school’s attitude and approach.
In previous years, the focus was raising money and awareness. This year the focus was on identifying with those who suffer for their faith.
“I think the tone is different. This week we were more solemn than years past and all the more motivated to help our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.
Thompson invited Jim Beavers, a Barnabas Aid volunteer, to speak to the students. Beavers explained that once ISIS overtakes an area, the Christians residents have one of three options: they can denounce Christianity and convert to Islam, pay a tax known as the “jizya” or be publicly executed. Families often flee on foot, leaving most of their possessions. ISIS then confiscates these abandoned buildings.
Throughout Northern Iraq, Barnabas Aid has established refugee campsites consisting of tents similar to ones the British military used in Afghanistan. These semi-permanent residencies, which can have indoor pluming, can host up to 35 people.
The school’s goal was to raise as much money as possible to assist in purchasing a tent in preparation for the Middle East’s oncoming winter.
“I saw a picture of a woman who was probably in her 90s holding a napping baby in her arms,” Beavers said. “These tents can help preserve generations.”
To raise money, Thompson and a committee of more than 40 students and faculty organized the overnight camp-out on the school’s playground. Grades 6-12 gathered pledges for teachers ranging from $50 to $3,000.
If the students raised enough money according to the predetermined amount for their sponsor, the teacher agreed to spend the night at the school.
“I wasn’t opposed to it at all when (Thompson) asked me,” said Susan Werner, a middle school literature and composition teacher at the school. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and lead by example for the kids I teach.
“People were looking at me like I was crazy when I first told them about this,” Thompson said with a laugh. “However, this is true solidarity. We chose to do something that they are forced to do everyday. We won’t forget spending a night out on a playground in the freezing rain.”
At the event, a light meal was served followed by a scavenger hunt and a bonfire. Thompson and other teachers then led in a time of reflection and worship.
Said Beavers: “It’s not just the fact of raising money. It’s more of what the student body is gaining and understanding about the global body of Christ.”
The event raised more than $10,000. Beavers and Thompson hope that by raising awareness of the situation in the Middle East many more people will take action.
Emmanuel Morgan is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Emmanuel? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.