“Throughout all their journeys, wherever the cloud lifted, they would set out but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out - until the day it lifted.” Exodus 40.36,37
On August 3rd, the cloud lifted, as a tribe we set out on a journey through eight gates into a place of new beginnings. Rabbi Sacks wrote that “first you have to build a future, only then can you mourn the past.” I find that his words ring true for our tribe for those who have wrestled with the shadow of death, with those who have fought for life, for those who are building their future. They are now able to stop and mourn, but then to keep going.
“August 3rd is the anniversary of our genocide. Honestly, Springs of Hope made a very, very beautiful activity, as long as I am alive, I will never forget your kindness from the first day that I arrived from captivity until now. Out of all the events that you have made for us, I have never experienced one with such beauty and healing power, this I will never forget.
Yes, we know that it is a hard day, it will always be in our hearts and our minds but you have shown us that life does go on and we cannot kill ourselves alive because of our dead. Thank you for working so hard to show us that there is a future and how to take hold of it. Thank you for helping to be our voice, thank you for showing us the way and for giving us a new beginning.”
Viyan, former soldier in ISIS.
Our annual memorial event, commemorating the Yezidi Genocide, which is still ongoing, with close to 3000 missing and unaccounted for, is usually a behind closed doors event, for our students. This year they requested that it be open to family members to which we readily agreed. It was hard though, our hearts broke and broke again as mothers, aunts, sisters poured through the Gate of Remembrance, which was opened by one of our rescued boys, holding pictures of their missing children, four, five, one, six. Women who live under the constant stress, day and night of worry for their children. One of our student’s mothers saw on display her first born son’s clothes. Eight years later, she picked up his shirt, covered her face trying to breathe in his smell, her tears pouring over the shirt as she tried to wear it, to bring him close to her.
Did she know, I wondered, that at that very minute, in the hours of this day, three of her four missing daughters had been identified, found and arrangements were being made, strategies laid in place to bring them across borders, home to her aching arms? We dared not try to comfort her with this info in case she did not know, in case there would, God forbid, be an ambush and the operation go wrong. She, and the others were the picture of Jeremiah 31: 15, 16; “A voice was heard, mourning and great weeping. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more. This is what the Lord says, “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears. Your children will return from the land of the enemy, so there is hope for your descendants, they will return to their own land.”
Gate of Remembrance | 2015
Gate of Hope | 2016
It was hard for these women to lay their deep mourning aside as we progressed through the Gates. I gently took clothes, and pictures from them as we moved into the Gate of Hope. I was reminded of how Abraham mourned for Sarah, his wife, but then he got busy, looking for a plot of land to bury her and looking to find a bride for his son Isaac.
As we went through the Gate of Hope, the atmosphere lifted, the colors changed, and the artwork reflected our journey from the tears and darkness of captivity to the freedom and joy in finding hope and future.
“Thank you, Miss Lisa, because in your hope, we find hope, I found hope and that made our pain less. You have given us hope instead of disappointment. Each colored door with its meaning was so personal and so healing for each one of us. Thank you.” Enas, former trafficked slave.
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you are not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”
Gate of Mercy | 2017
The Gate of Mercy representing the year when still wounded, still bleeding, our Yezidi tribe reached out to other suffering communities, the Syrians in War City and Domiz, and the Christians in Mosul. In extending mercy, we have found our healing.
“Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative, when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven't earned it, who haven't even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.” B. Stevenson, Just Mercy.
I will never forget standing inside the Church destroyed by ISIS, the church which they had used as a court of “justice”, a prison and a military training base, standing there with some twenty of our Yezidi and Syrian kids, those hoping for justice but reaching out to the persecuted in mercy as they fed and clothed the hungry children and elderly of the community.
Gate of Healing | 2018
“If there is a single definition of healing, it is to enter with mercy those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgment, dismay and fear.” Stephen Levine
Inside our Gate, our Sewing Hope ladies sat busy on their machines, sewing shredded lives together in a glorious array of lifegiving color. Ladies still grieving, still going to mass graves to identify decayed corpses and skeletons in work clothes, ladies yearning for life. Ladies healing as they sew their and their friends' lives together. Ladies working as a team, ladies living in unity.
“It was a wonderful event, even though it was the Black Day. In the beginning I thought that I would drown in my sadness but thank God, as we moved from gate to gate, happiness came and it spread amongst us all instead of the sadness. Thank you for giving us the way to go and for new opportunities in life. God bless you for always being with us, and never leaving us on our own.”
Gawri, Mother of five children taken into captivity.
Inside the Gate of Healing our two nurses, Salah and Jazia sat busy with some of their patients, those happy to “defy” the Black Day, and come and sit, chat and not miss out on their daily blood pressure check-up. Our beloved Miss Tali almost totally blind now showed up, saying that “she wouldn't miss the chance to BE the exhibition for the world.”
Gate of Life | 2019
“Today I have set before you life and death, choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Deuteronomy 30: 19 As the key was put into the lock of the Gate of Life, we spoke these words over our community, over those precious ladies dressed in black who still cling to the grave.
We affirmed our students, our tribe, those who are now studying on scholarships at the University of Duhok, those who returned to school despite years in captivity. Those who are now working, those who have recently married, we assured them that their parents, their families would be oh so proud of them, of their journey of healing and their choice for life. We blessed them with life for themselves and their generations to follow. Our activities inside this gate were all live, live painting, Psychologist Noori and his play therapy group, Avya and her rescued kiddies.
“Countless members of my family were killed or are still missing. The feeling of loss is overwhelming and I cried so much before the event. I was so weak and not able to stand but I gathered all my strength because I wanted to choose life instead of that black day. I spoke life over myself as I walked through the gate. My strength returned. It was a miracle.” Shahala
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein
Gate of Unity | 2020
We have waged war to reach this gate, this place of unity. The place where as Psalm 133 says “It’s good, its precious, it’s like oil, it’s the place of the commanded blessing.” Unity was not dished out to us on a plate. We have had to strive for it. It has been a gradual process of trial and error, of seeing the rewards of living in unity, as to living for self. Of working and moving together as a team, as a family, with those who have refused to be members of our family.
It has been a journey where we have at times needed as leaders to prove our loyalty to our tribe, where we have had to defend them from the enemies outside, from those who would seek to destroy them. Do you remember the years when our kids were targeted by other rescued youth from their own community, who had been so brainwashed that they had become “missionaries” for the ideology and philosophy of ISIS. We had to reason with them, warn them and then put them outside our camp to protect those who had disengaged and were choosing life. Hard, painful and frustrating days when often we felt that we were on the losing end.
In these battles when it felt that all was falling apart, or could fall apart, we proved our willingness to sacrifice for our kids. Unity came to dwell amongst us, and with that ability to be one for the other.
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?” A.W. Tozer
Gate of Renewal | 2021
“The definition of renewal is becoming new again.” yourdictionary .com
“You were weary with the length of your way but you did not say “It is hopeless” you found renewal for your strength so you were not faint.” Isaiah 57. 10
Inside the gate our students were renewing their minds that had been brainwashed by ISIS, through reading, learning computers, studying English, painting, and drama, all pictures of the inner self being renewed and restored.
As we journeyed as a tribe from gate to gate, the atmosphere became charged with excitement as we saw our progress over the years. Truly because we had embraced the future, we were able to look back with understanding, and keep moving ahead, momentum increasing as we approached each gate. Like the tribes in the Sinai wilderness, we saw their journey laid out, as the cloud moved and halted. We saw each encampment, with its lessons, its glories and failures. Some of our students had the ability to identity their eight year journey, naming years of confusion, years of rebellion, years of healing, years of leadership, years of being a friend, years of personal progress.
The last gate lay ahead of us. The ladies in black were no longer weeping. They had stayed the course, despite the sounds of laughter and music. They were with us, one with us.
Gate of New Beginnings | 2022-2023
We approached The Gate of New Beginnings representing 2022- 2023.
It was an honor to give the opening of the Gate to our two horse trainers, Daoud and Barzan, the first of our former ISIS conscripts to formally be in our employment. We are so proud of them, of their many choices for life that they have taken, their choices for honesty and integrity in the face of many “temptations” that have been laid in their way since their return from captivity. Two upright young men opened the gates for us, to the sound of “The Blessing.”
“The Lord bless you and keep you.
Make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
May his favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family
And your children
And their children
And their children
May His presence go before
And behind you
And beside you
All around you
In the morning
In the evening
In your coming
And your going
In your weeping
He is for you.
Based on Numbers 6. 22-27