Then the second item, a little bit more dangerous, is that we hope in some way to negotiate the release of women and young girls that have been captured by Isis from Yazidis after the tragic events on Sinjar Mountain. We're not sure how we're going to do that yet, but when we get over there, I've got redemption money with me that I just got out of the bank today. So I've got a few thousand dollars that, if we can meet with Isis, and that's our goal of course is to meet with them. Then, if they're willing to give us back these women and young girls, great. If we can negotiate their release, if we've got to buy them back and buy them out of slavery, then we'll do that as well. I'm looking to God to do some incredible, miraculous, amazing things and He always does. God always shows up on these trips that I go on. So that's our hope, to release some of these women and young girls from slavery, thinking no thought of ourselves and hoping to secure some meetings and go from there.
CP: It's not uncommon that when Christians go on overseas mission trips, they have a community back home that praying for them regularly, for spiritual strength, success, and so forth. So I am wondering, who do you have here? Who's holding you up when you take these trips?
Devlin: I've got Infinity Bible Church where I'm a co-pastor and then I've got really hundreds of churches that I keep in weekly contact with through social media that are praying and holding us up in prayer. Then, because I raise my own support as an international humanitarian, I've got hundreds of people that support me financially. They're praying for me as well, and I keep in weekly contact with them. So these are the folks that have donated money in order to get Pastor Bill and Murad over to Erbil, Iraq. These are the people that have donated the money, the redemption money, and have said, 'Look, if you need money to buy these women out of slavery, here's $1,000 here's $500, here's $2,000. So those are really the three groups of people... So we are well, well covered. I was on Pastor Dimas'...our church's radio program on WMCA last Friday informing them as well. So there are thousands of people praying for this trip. It's really encouraging, it's tremendous, it's very very encouraging and exciting. I was at several events over the weekend and people who I didn't even know came up and said, 'Are you Pastor Bill Devlin?' … They said, 'I heard you're going to Iraq.' … Six degrees of separation, there you go.
It's really interesting about what God is doing and my, you know, my MO (Mode of Operation) is the first two letters in God is 'g-o' and the first two letters in Gospel is 'g-o' so that's where I'm going (Iraq), thinking no thought of myself. If we can meet with ISIS, not only will I...Murad and I work to negotiate the release of these young girls and women, but obviously I'm going to be sharing the love of God with them.
CP: (Reporter laughs) Sorry to laugh, but considering the things we've read about and seen ISIS militants do, just to hear you say that if you get the opportunity to stand in the same space with them that you would proclaim the Gospel to them. It's definitely a bold thing to say.
Devlin: I've always found, whether it's Cuba, Sudan, Gaza, Syria, Iran, all these countries I've been in the last 11 months, everybody's running away from ISIS. My strategy is to run towards them and that's why I'm going. It's a different strategy, it's an unusual strategy, but it's God-ordained and we're looking for some great success to the glory of God.
CP: You have been all over the Middle East, but never visited Iraq before. Will this be your first interaction with the Yazidi community?
Devlin: This is my first contact with the Yazidi people and, again, I had been praying since we all heard the story of the Yazidi people trapped on Sinjar Mountain, and I know that Muraj probably went through all that with you. When I heard about it, I just began praying and said you know, 'What can I do as an individual pastor?' Then, as I began to pray, I had people beginning to pray with me. I actually had a brother in Jesus in Washington, D.C., who wanted to go with me. He would say, 'Well, who are we going to meet when we get there?' And I would say, 'Well, I really don't know but God's going to provide.' That was a couple of months ago, and lo and behold, through the rabbi, through the media producer (who knew of) Murad Ismael, that's how we connected. Murad said, 'Let's go.' And I thought, there couldn't be a greater person to go with, someone who was born there in northern Iraq, someone who speaks the language, someone who is a Yazidi. So God just dropped Murad right into the very place where we are where we could do something significant together. It's pretty neat. So this is my first interaction with the Yazidi community but obviously not my last.
CP: Open Doors, the persecution watchdog, puts out every year a World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The top 10 list usually has North Korea as number one, and then the nine remaining countries are usually in the Middle East or North Africa. What is your response to the suggestion that Christian missions then should be greatly focused on those areas?
Devlin: I respond by saying that there should be what I would call a hyper-emphasis on those areas of North Korea, Middle Eastern countries, North Africa because that's where the greatest need is. And I believe that as an individual pastor, I want to lead the way in that just as one individual and I call that the power of one. So that's how every great missionary movement has started, with this one, two or three people. They have a desire to go and they go and people hear great stories about what God is doing and then people say, 'Well maybe I should go.' And they hear the call.
As I speak in various countries and of course in the U.S., I want to raise up a mighty movement of followers of Jesus who will go into these difficult places and have no thought of their own life. It's high-risk but we remember that over the two millennia of Christianity that God has always moved women and men to go to hard and dangerous places for the glory of His name. So my going to Iraq and my call to people to go to these hard and dangerous places where there's great persecution, I say why shouldn't we go there? Why should we stay home? Let's go, let's make a difference.
That's really going all the way back to Acts chapter 2 when the church was dispersed and people began to go all over the Middle East. Thomas went to India, was (martyred). Thaddeus and Bartholomew went over to Armenia and they were eventually martyred. The British and Irish missionaries went to Africa and they packed their belongings in a casket because they knew they would not return. David Livingstone went to what's now called Malawi and he died there. They shipped his body back to Westminster Abbey where he's buried. But before he left Africa, they cut his heart out and they buried it beneath a tree and that's where his heart is today.
I do believe that the American Church is addicted to personal peace, comfort, and affluence, and that we need to do everything we can to go over to these hard, dangerous, difficult places and support our sisters and brothers in Jesus. If I was sitting in Erbil, Iraq, being threatened with Isis militants coming to kill me and my wife and children, I would want somebody from America to come over and help me. So we can pray, we can give money but I call it the ministry of presence. It's one thing to say, 'Yeah, I'll be praying for you. Here's some money to help you.' But it's yet another thing to go with our bodies and to say to them, 'We're here to encourage you. We're here just to be with you.' That's what Jesus said when he said, 'I am with you even into the end of this age.' And when you think about it, God left heaven and came to earth to practice the ministry of presence because He knew that the world needed a savior. This is our example, and we should go to these hard and dangerous places where our brothers and sisters are being persecuted for the glory of His name for the ministry of presence and to be among them.
CP: Of course, it's not just about Christians. You're going on this mission with Ismael to the Yazidis and other religious minorities that are facing persecution in Iraq.
Devlin: Yeah, exactly. It's the Yazidis, other religious minorities that are being crushed under the boot heel of Isis and being killed. So yeah, it's not just about our brothers and sisters in Jesus but it's also about other religious minorities. What a great testimony that we can tell the Yazidi people, that I can tell them personally once I get there on Thursday morning, 'I love you and I'm here to help' and 'I left the comfort of my home back in America to come here and be a presence among you.' I'm hoping that we can lead the way and that there will be a wave of people, a movement that will go over to help them, to help the Yazidi people, to make a difference in their lives.