WASHINGTON — As hundreds of thousands of Christians and religious minorities are living homeless in Iraq due to the rise of the Islamic State, a pastor from New York City says it is a "total embarrassment" that most American Christians are not willing to travel to the Kurdish region of Iraq to care for the persecuted.
The Rev. William Devlin, who pastors the Infinity Bible Church in South Bronx, has traveled to over 11 different countries where the persecution of Christians is rampant and in December he went to Kurdish Iraq for 11 days to provide humanitarian assistance to those displaced from their homes by ISIS.
Devlin, who's also a registered nurse with a specialty in war trauma, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that he plans to go back to Iraq in July and hopes to recruit and even pay for other pastors to go with him.
"I always say that I am here to let you know that you are not forgotten, that the church in America has not forgotten you. But, I am one person," Devlin said after Wednesday's House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on ISIS' destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq.
"I am one pastor out of the South Bronx. But can you imagine, particularly these megachurches that have untold resources, if the pastors get out from behind their safe, bullet-proof pulpit and come with me and get others and then do something practical. Get dirt underneath your fingernails."
Devlin asserted that Jesus specifically calls on Christians to travel to help their brothers in sisters in times of need.
"My mode of operation is going," Devlin said. "I think it's great that we can have congressional hearings, it is great that pastors can stand at pulpits and say look at what is happening. However, Jesus said to go. The first two letters in the word 'God' are 'G-O' and the first two letters in the word 'Gospel' are 'G-O.' So what are we waiting for?"
When asking other American and western Christians to join him on his journey to Iraq, Devlin said he was tired of hearing the typical excuse that people can't afford to go. That is why Devlin says he's willing to pay for pastors' airfare to Iraq. However, Devlin says it will be the responsibility of the pastors and their churches to pay for their transportation home.
"My goal now is to create a flood of western people who love Jesus that are willing to go over to Iraq and to learn what is going on and to provide humanitarian assistance," the 61-year-old added.
"My number one goal is to get over there again in a repeated fashion and bring teams with me because I think it is unconscionable that we have American Christians, European Christians sitting here wringing our hands. We need to go. We need to be, what I call, an incarnational presence with the people that are being persecuted."
Devlin said his efforts so far have resulted in at least a couple of pastors who have expressed a willingness to travel to Iraq with him. Even though he has offered to pay for other pastors' airfares, other pastors he has talked to still have "stuttered and stammered" at the opportunity.
"I hammer social media all the time and it is interesting, the people that want to go with me are predominantly women. They want to go. We have got a crisis of cowardly men who are unwilling to go and they say 'I have responsibility,'" Devlin said. "Well, I have responsibilities too. I have a wife and I have five kids and three grandkids, but I am still going to go. I am hesitant to take women over there because it increases the risk for them."
"My efforts are bearing fruit and just hope that we can continue to get the call out there because I think it is a total embarrassment, it's a black eye in the face of Jesus that we are not going over there," Devlin continued.
Although many people might refute Devlin's argument by saying that it's dangerous to send Americans into Iraq, Dr. David Marx, an emergency room physician who traveled to the Kurdish north in March, contends that Kurdish protection provides for a safer environment than what most Americans think of when it comes to safety in Iraq.
"When you say the word 'Iraq' people freak out. But, there are areas of Iraq and Kurdistan that are relatively safe and I have always had a place in my heart for Iraq. So, when the opportunity came up for me to go over, it was like 'man, go,'" Marx told CP. "I felt God's hand was over us and every day we had divine appointments. That reaffirmed my reason for being there. That's what I want to convey is that when God opens the door and calls you to go, follow through and you will be taken care over."