Meet the Christians who love their enemies, even when it's ISIS

Source: Christian Today

Fallujah, September 15, 2016

Hundreds of suspected ISIS members held in a detainment compound not far from Fallujah after the city was captured by the Iraqi army. Hundreds of suspected ISIS members held in a detainment compound not far from Fallujah after the city was captured by the Iraqi army.

On the outskirts of Fallujah, just weeks after Islamic State had been driven out of the city by the Iraqi army following two years of jihadist rule, a team of Sunni and Shia Muslims visited a compound where hundreds of people who had fled the city were being held.

They brought supplies – food and water – to those cramped into the tiny space, as would be expected by humanitarian organisations working in the region. Aid groups have been working tirelessly in Iraq and Syria since ISIS' devastating campaign first shocked the world in 2014, serving the most needy and vulnerable on the front lines.

But something about this was different. The recipients of this aid weren't the families who had been traumatised by militants; who had spent years living in fear and then weeks trapped, starving, as Fallujah became a battleground between government and ISIS forces.

These were ISIS fighters.

A team from the Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC), a US-Iraqi non-profit organisation that's been active in the Middle East for a decade, took food and water to ISIS militants; providing respite to those who had been captured as Fallujah fell.

Hundreds of suspected ISIS members were being held in the detainment compound not far from the city. Some would have been innocent men and boys; separated from their families as they fled Fallujah and sent for interrogation by the Iraqi army. Others were confirmed militants. All were given food to eat and water to drink by PLC.

The reason? "Love means going to the hard places".

'Only light can drive out darkness'

Sadiq, a member of Preemptive Love's aid team, gives water to a captured, confirmed ISIS member. "You killed my friend. But I've come here to feed you," he said. Sadiq, a member of Preemptive Love's aid team, gives water to a captured, confirmed ISIS member. "You killed my friend. But I've come here to feed you," he said.
Matthew Willingham, PLC's senior field editor who's based in Iraq, wasn't able to take part in the aid drop in early August, but was watching on a video feed. The highly sensitive nature of the visit meant that only Iraqi Muslims entered the compound. Among them was a man named Sadiq.

He gave water to a bound prisoner dressed in a yellow jumpsuit, who he recognised from an ISIS propaganda video posted online. This man, a tribal sheikh loyal to Islamic State, had stood and watched as a friend of Sadiq's was brutally executed.

"You killed my friend," Sadiq said, as he poured water into the man's mouth. "But I've come here to feed you."

Willingham said they had been warned against the trip by Iraqi leaders, and even friends, who told them they'd gone too far this time. The detainees deserved to suffer after what they had done.

"But we believe only light can drive out darkness. Love is the only real answer to hate," Willingham wrote in a blog post. "So we went anyway."

"We always want to be careful," he explained to Christian Today. "We don't want to come across as cowboys; we don't want to be kidnapped, we don't want to be blown up or tortured. But we also don't want to live exclusively by the principles of risk management. We don't want to be controlled by fear."

PLC seeks guidance from its extensive Iraqi network before undertaking any trip, but unless it's told categorically it is too dangerous, they usually go ahead. Willingham's wife and two small children live with him in Iraq. They are well aware of the risks and have had hard conversations about the possible repercussions of work on the front line. And yet they keep going.

"Ultimately, this is how we meet people who otherwise won't be cared for. This is how people get seen, this is how they are going to be helped – when people are willing to step in and risk something, when they've got skin in the game," he says. "As long as we live behind these fortified borders, it's going to be harder to see reconciliation happen. We've got to go to them, let them be heard, and acknowledge their pain. It's beautiful to see how humanising people changes the conversation."

When Sadiq and his fellow Muslim colleagues delivered aid to the Fallujah detainees, prisoners openly wept. A member of the PLC team addressed a group gathered in a courtyard of the compound. "Brothers, we are all Iraqi! Why did you give up on Iraq?" he asked. "We live in one country – we shouldn't give up on this place. We are brothers. We can't change what happened in the past, but we can change what will happen – and rebuild as brothers again."

"One of the most striking things to me about that delivery in particular was seeing the intense emotion in the faces of those men," Willingham says. "They were just overwhelmed, many of them with guilt."

While the team had been expecting an aggressive reception, they were instead greeted with row upon row of broken men. When Sadiq spoke to a group of convicted ISIS members – some of them jihadi leaders – they broke down, weeping. "They kept saying: 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry'," Willingham recalls.

"Love has the power to convict."

As a Christian, Willingham says he saw the love of Christ in action that day, revealed through Sadiq – a Muslim.

"I see this as the love of God reaching down into the world," he says. "That's a Christ-like love, extended to his [Sadiq's] enemies. Not people he disagrees with, but his enemies. People who murdered his friends. That is the love of God in Christ."

'Love anyway'

Courtney stands in the ruins of a church destroyed by ISIS in Sinjar City, northern Iraq. Courtney stands in the ruins of a church destroyed by ISIS in Sinjar City, northern Iraq.
The journey for PLC began 10 years ago. At the height of the Iraq War in 2006, Jeremy Courtney and his wife Jessica moved to the country, despite the dangers. They had felt a call to provide practical help to people in desperate need, and so left their home in the US to be part of the solution to so many broken lives. PLC was born.

Now a decade on and with two young children, they couldn't have imagined where that journey would lead them.

What started as an organisation to provide life-saving surgery to Iraqi children suffering from heart defects became much more when ISIS rose to prominence in 2014 with the invasion of the Nineveh Plain. The relentless persecution of religious minorities including Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims shocked the world, but there were few organisations left to help following the withdrawal of US troops.

"More than a million people were displaced and in need of food, water, shelter, medicine and every single other thing people need to survive. And we had a very important conversation in the office: are we going to sit by and say we don't have a mandate to serve in this time, or are we going to respond to this moment and take responsibility for this stewardship we've been given?" Jeremy Courtney told Christian Today.

"It was a very short conversation."

As one of the only organisations left, and with a tremendous network across Iraq, his team quickly decided they had to respond, and began to do so immediately. They took food, water and medicine to the front lines, meeting people in their time of desperate need. "I remember how terrifying those days were," Courtney recalls.

In the years since, as Islamic State has gained and lost territory, Courtney has visited a number of ISIS-held cities and towns in Iraq following the departure of the militants. He has seen the horrific devastation jihadists have left in their wake and met families who have lost everything in the conflict. The most harrowing experience, he says, is when he visited Sinjar after militants overran the Nineveh Plain, slaughtering 5,000 men and taking thousands of women and girls into captivity to be used as sex slaves. "We saw mass graves, clothes strewn about the countryside where people had been mown down by ISIS as they fled," he says.

A Yazidi girl holds one of the chickens her family received during a distribution in Sinjar earlier this year. A Yazidi girl holds one of the chickens her family received during a distribution in Sinjar earlier this year.
"We've walked through bombs and air strikes. Seeing these things has become a very compelling feeling, and is part of why we do what we do. Seeing the suffering and wanting to be part of the healing on the other side... showing that resurrection on the other side is possible."

Their mandate to "love anyway" – regardless of race, religion or creed – has led the team at PLC to help victims of ISIS' reign of terror not just in their immediate needs, but also in building a brighter future. They've delivered 100,000 pounds of emergency food aid, but have also given small business grants to widows, are involved in peace-making initiatives and are helping get children back into the classroom. Earlier this year they delivered thousands of egg-laying chickens – a sustainable source of protein – to vulnerable families in Sinjar and are helping displaced men and women living in IDP camps to make and sell their own soap. Seeing lives restored and people beginning to glimpse some hope for the future "is a beautiful thing to watch," Willingham says. "You see them come alive."

Taking Jesus seriously

PLC is not religiously-affiliated, though it describes itself as "a faith-oriented community". Christians, Muslims, and those of no faith work side by side.

For the Courtneys, Willingham, and many members of their team, however, their mission is driven by their love for God.

They are "trying to figure out what it would mean to take Jesus seriously when he says 'follow me' and 'bless those who persecute you'," Courtney says.

While they actively help victims of ISIS persecution, they also believe in the importance of re-humanising the ISIS militants who are waging such death and destruction in the Middle East.

"You may have seen... [ISIS] described as monsters, animals, and an apocalyptic death cult. Those words just obscure the fact that these are largely men and boys, and in some cases women, who want to belong, a place to feel safe, and to have meaning. Who are looking for a way to put food on the table for their kids," Courtney says.

He believes that the number of ISIS fighters who are simply normal people who join to earn money to provide for their family "is probably pretty significant". We have to "look at those in ISIS and in similar terror [groups] around the world and see them as individuals", he says.

"ISIS is comprised of people we know – or people who come from groups and places we know... [they've been] affected by violence, economic policies that have put them in a place of being dis-empowered and disenfranchised... And so in some ways, ISIS are not just guys in black masks waving swords in the desert – they're our friends, our people, who have found themselves in a situation that is probably not going to be resolved by bombs and bullets alone. We want to combat the darkness with light, and drive out hate and fear with love."

The way to do this is though "ideas and compassion", he says. When PLC first approached Iraqi officials with the idea of visiting suspected ISIS militants in detention, they were met with incredulity. But the team explained that there were two ways forward.

"We said, you've got tens of thousands of ISIS fighters in captivity now, how are you going to treat them? In a way that further radicalises them, and drives them away from mainline society? Or will you use this moment to love you enemies, and incorporate them back into society?

"It was a fascinating discussion. We knew it was the right thing to do."

Families at a camp outside Fallujah receive aid during a sandstorm. Families at a camp outside Fallujah receive aid during a sandstorm.
The team was, however, concerned about backlash they may receive for serving militants potentially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. "But the truth is, I'm not aware of any [criticism]," Courtney says. "A lot of our base is Muslim and Christian, and actually both faiths have at their heart... love your enemies."

Courtney is adamant that this is the only Christian response, though he echoes Willingham's insistence that PLC's practical involvement has resulted from years of working in Iraq. "It's not like we woke up one day, read a Bible verse that said love your enemies and decided to go to ISIS," he says. "[But] the message of the gospel story is one of love that pursues the other all the way to death. God... taking on flesh and dying in pursuit of those that have become his enemies."

That's the message PLC wants to live out: "Following in those footsteps, laying down our lives and pursuing those who have become our enemies, even unto death."

Courtney doesn't know for certain if they'll do anything similar in the future. The conflict in Iraq is so volatile it's hard to plan ahead. "But what I will say is that this is in our blood and bones," he adds.

"If opportunities continue to present themselves, and we have willing partners and we find willing people in the Muslim clerical community who can help us... We're not foolhardy. We're not looking to rush into known ISIS territory, waving some kind of Christian or American flag, we don't have a death wish, we do what we do in a very calculated and wise manner.

"We're not looking to make headlines, we're looking to make change, and there are certain ways that that has been facilitated. If we find moments and ways [in the future], we will absolutely keep stepping in."

Christian Today


Tyler9/18/2016 12:52 am
This artical is filth and evil, probably the work of the CIA. There was once a time when Christians understood the need to defend their families and Fatherlands from the Muslims. How many Christians have been raped and martyred at their hands!?? Remember whose countries the middle east used to be!
An article like this makes me want to convert to Catholisism and join the Lebanese Christian army.
Anthony9/17/2016 1:58 pm
In the encampment of the Saracens they asked St. Cyril: "How could Christians wage war and at the same time keep the commandment of Christ about praying to God for their enemies?" To that, St. Cyril replied: "If two commandments were written in one law and given to men for fulfilling, which man will be a better follower of the law: the one who fulfills one commandment or the one who fulfills both?" To that, the Saracens replied: "Undoubtedly, he who fulfills both commandments." St. Cyril continued: "Christ our God commands us to pray to God for those who persecute us and even to do good to them; but, He also said to us: greater love cannot be shown in this world than if one lay down his life for his friends." "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (St. John 15:13). That is why we bear the insults which our enemies do to us individually and we pray to God for them; and, as a society, we defend one another and give up our lives, that you would not somehow enslave our brethren, would not enslave their souls with their bodies and would not kill them in body and soul. - Prolog from Ohrid
Samuel9/16/2016 10:10 pm
Whats really interesting is that this articles title is extremely misleading since the article does not mention one single instance of Christians loving their Muslim enemies, but what it does show and teach is Muslims loving there Muslim brothers! I am very surprised that pravoslavie posted this article on their respectable Orthodox site. This is pure heretical garbage, but unfortunately they will probably steal the narrative because they are bought and paid for by the USA.
Samuel9/16/2016 10:09 pm If you are an Orthodox priest, then I humbly ask for your prayers, but I must as you the following:Do you think that St. Sergius of Radonezeh was not a Christian according to your thinking because he gave his blessing to Prince Dimitry to go fight, KILL AND DEFEAT the muslim invaders of their country, Russia? Do you consider your interpretation of Christ's admonishment to love your enemies the only true interpretation? Christ taught us to be "wise as serpents and loving as doves" feeding those that will one day turn and kill us because of their extreme hatred is not Christian love, but blatant heretical new age garbage. Was king David blinded by hate when he fought Goliath, or was it his great love for the true Triune God that lead him to kill and defeat a barbarian? Maybe he should of given him the food that he had for his brothers and goliath would of just given up, cried a little and then David could of had an "alter call" where goliath would of given his life to God? Would that be "Christian love"?
Jeff9/16/2016 2:04 pm
"A lot of our base is Muslim and Christian, and actually both faiths have at their heart... love your enemies."

quran (9:29)
"Fight those who believe not in allah nor in the last day, nor hold that forbidden by allah and his messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of truth ( even if they are ) of the people of the book ( Christians) until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and find themselves subdued"

quran (8:12)
" I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them"

quran (9:30)
" And the jews say: Ezra is the son of allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; May allah destroy them; how they are turned away"

These are but a few of the many passages just like them, contained within islamic text, of which those who have chosen to submit to this false and blasphemous religion have faithfully adhered to for the past fourteen centuries and counting.
The so called "heart" of islam is submission, not love...

For the Light and Life and salvation of the world,
prayers for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, and prayers for our enemies, who persecute and disbelieve.

Father Jack Geudens9/16/2016 10:15 am
Thank you for sharing this information.
ChiRho9/15/2016 10:24 pm
"A team of Sunni and Shia Muslims visited a compound..The recipients of this aid weren't the families who had been traumatised by militants...[they] were ISIS fighters...The highly sensitive nature of the visit meant that only Iraqi Muslims entered the compound..."
-So the captured IS members are still too good to take free food and water from filthy Kafir hands? So the local Muslims were nowhere to be found when the Christians and Yzidis were being raped, tortured, and slaughtered yet swoop in with relief when IS members are caught? This isn't the work of Christ, this is furthering the cause of Islamic Supremecy.

"...Willingham says he saw the love of Christ in action that day, revealed through Sadiq, a Muslim."
-Vatican 2 called, it wants its theology back.

"ISIS is...people we know...affected by...economic policies ...being dis-empowered and disenfranchised... And so in some ways ...they're our friends... in a situation that is probably not going to be resolved by bombs and bullets alone..."
-Has he considered a career at CNN? The Whitehouse could really use someone like that as their Press Secretary.

So aiding jihadis is now bringing light? What about the ACTUAL victims? This is hippie, communist, New Age pseudo-christianity. And "Preemptive Love Coalition" sounds rediculous. This is what happens when Christians fall into the lies of the Atheists, New Agers, Marxists, and Muslims. They become little more than useful idiots.
Anthony9/15/2016 9:06 pm
Remember Alan Henning, an aide worker butchered by ISIS. And Kayla Mueller, an aide worker kept as a sex slave, had her fingernails ripped out, and then butchered by ISIS. Remember these people and the thousands like them, and then how about doing something sane like rather helping their victims first. Just like Sister Hatune Dogan does. Saves Yazidi and Christian sex slaves.

Their religion teaches them that they will go to heaven for killing the infidel. Fact. No amount of generosity is going to change that. In Greece, they were giving food to the illegal immigrants sorry ''refugees'', and the said illegal immigrants ''refugees'' started swearing and cursing demanding halal food. Give a finger, they take a hand, then an arm etc. Sorry that's the reality of the way things are.
Gabe9/15/2016 9:06 pm
I agree with Samuel. The CIA takes care of its own, that is until they are done with you and then they kill you in the most satanic way, just like they did Saddam and Gaddafi. What this man is doing is certainly not loving nor is it Christian. You have murderers, rapists and child sex slave traders in the midst of these prisioners and you simply treat them all equally? I wonder whether he would be so loving with a person that killed one of his loved ones (God forbid)? Would Corurtney be as forgiving and as tolerant as he expects the Iraqi Christians to be? The problem with these kind of liberals is that they are very forgiving and loving until some harm is done to them at which point they become the most violent of all men. Remember that about nine months before ISIS was created you had a huge prison brake in Iraq where thousands of terrorists were released all at once. These murderes became the foundation of ISIS. I wonder if the people they are "loving" will not one day be emboldened to fight alongside their "brothers" once again knowing that even if they get caught the worst that could happen is that a Christians might give them food to eat! Ridiculous!
frcassian@yahoo.com9/15/2016 8:45 pm
This is what Christian love looks like. It always looks like foolishness to those who cannot see past their hatred. It is a mark of courage to defend yourself and others from your oneself - but it is the mark of a man to defend one's enemy from oneself.
Samuel9/15/2016 7:34 pm
This man is seriously misguided. These people sold themselves over to ISIS once and will do it again when they need to no matter how much water you give them to drink. They are laughing at your foolish behavior while you strengthen them for the next time they pick up their guns against you, or maybe Courtney will be watching the Christians get slaughtered again on a "live stream". Courtney seems to resemble a communist hippie more than a Christian, since he even makes that pathetic statement that Christianity and Islam both teach "loving your enemies". What planet does this man live on? What Koran does he read? It's certainly not the Koran that the Muslims read! I think this is the Obama regimes way of preserving their barbarian mercenaries for the next time they need to use them! Imagine if you would of tried to rehabilitate the nazis after the mass genocide they committed, what would the Jews say? What would the world say? This is insane and crazy, and certainly not wise Christianity. This organization is not Christian and I doubt Courtney is one either. He is probably a CIA agent.
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