Around Christmas 2013, I saw reports of Syrian refugee children in snow covered camps, wearing flip flops and summer clothes. These were the clothes they had been wearing when they fled from their homes in summer, and they had nothing else.
The press described how refugees were burning old shoes in the camps in a desperate attempt to try to keep warm. I was shocked, and moved to tears by the thought of having young children, living in a tent in the snow, and not being able to provide them with the most basic things like clothes, shoes and warmth to survive the winter.
Thinking about those families in the snow covered refugee camps, I couldn't help wondering how those poor mothers were coping with young toddlers in those conditions. How were they managing to confine them to a tent? The only alternative surely would be to let their children walk around outside, barefoot, in the snow!
As I looked at the pile of beautiful warm clothes and shoes I had been saving for my sister’s baby, I felt desperate to give them to those poor mothers and children who had absolutely nothing. I wondered how it would be possible to get them there.
A few days later my mother showed me some blankets she had been knitting to send out to the Syrian refugees. There was a charity in Turkey who would take these donations to the Syrian refugee camps and give these gifts to the children.
I couldn't wait to go home and pack everything up to send to those children. Because of tax issues, I had to send out many packages each weighing under 2kgs. It worked out to be expensive to post all of those packages and I felt that there must be a more cost effective way. The idea of a lorry filled with clothes and shoes wouldn't go away.
The comparatively luxurious lifestyle that our children in the UK have kept playing on my mind. I wanted to organise a collection through my son’s school of warm, good quality clothes and shoes and send them to those children who have nothing at all. I started to look into it.
Every charity that I contacted politely declined being a part of a used clothing aid collection to ship out to Syria. Having had much correspondence with many of them, and having now organised a number of these lorries, I do understand the reasons why they do not do this as it requires a lot of organisation. However, I couldn't shake the feelings I had knowing how many good quality, unneeded clothes there were in many homes around the Brighton area.
Frustrated that it didn’t seem possible to organise this lorry, I prayed asking God to show me what I had to do to make something like this happen. He replied
I wasn't taken with the idea. I’m a “details” kind of girl, or a control freak to put it bluntly! I like to know how everything will come together, where things are going, who’s doing it and how much it is going to cost. So I left it, feeling a little despondent.
In March 2014, the idea came back to me very suddenly on a family holiday. It felt like a big burden that I couldn’t shake off. I felt a sense of urgency to organise a lorry load of winter clothes and shoes for the refugees, and I really couldn’t ignore it. As soon as I got home I started looking into it again and couldn't find a way to make it work. None of the organisations that I contacted were interested in helping, even if I offered to do all the work, ensuring that everything was clean, sorted and packed nicely.
In my frustration I prayed again, asking God to tell me what I had to do to get this organised. He said
Feeling frustrated, I wondered whether perhaps I should just start collecting and see what happened. I told a couple of mums at school that I wanted to collect winter clothes and shoes to send out to the refugees and they responded with more enthusiasm that I felt.
After making a few more calls and having no success, I put the couple of bags that the mums at school had given me into the spare room. I felt disheartened and at a loss about how to make this happen.
Months drifted by and I would notice the bags occasionally and feel frustrated. Then the summer of 2014 came.
I watched in horror as ISIS created hell on Earth in Mosul and other parts of Northern Iraq. It was devastating to see events that took place there. Families had been tortured, slaughtered and driven from their homes. Our brothers and sisters were being beheaded and driven from their homes with little children and they weren’t allowed to take anything with them. They sacrificed every worldly possession they had in exchange for their lives, and many of them lost their lives too. I was heart broken.
Many left with only the clothes they were wearing, and many of them lost loved ones. Wives and daughters were raped in front of husbands and fathers, young girls and boys were taken by IS when their families left and it was too awful to even imagine what those children or their families were going through. The last straw for me was seeing a photograph of a baby that had been beheaded. I just couldn’t believe that this was possible!
In tears, I prayed for these people and felt as though I was living through this ordeal with them. Their suffering weighed me down so much that I struggled to think about anything else.
Our media in the UK had barely mentioned the situation in Northern Iraq as it was so focused on the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. When our press finally started to take notice, many displaced people had fled into the Sinjar Mountains and were dying from sun exposure and dehydration. They were trapped there by ISIS waiting for them at the bottom, but they had nowhere else to go, and no food, water or shelter in the August heat.
These poor people had escaped the horror of IS only to be confronted by the horror of trying to survive in these harsh conditions. There didn't seem to be any respite for these people. I desperately wanted to do something for them, but what could I possibly do? I live in the UK, have two young children and have no personal income as a stay at home mum. I felt totally helpless.
I prayed for these people. I told God that I didn't know what I could possibly do to help these people in my situation. But if there was anything I could do, anything at all, no matter what, whatever it took, then I would do it. He replied
Winter had been the last thing on my mind when I prayed for these people, but He showed me that although these people were dying of sun exposure and dehydration, it would be winter by the time I managed to collect a lorry load of clothes and send them there.
This instruction to start collecting came with a very strong assurance or “knowledge” that if I was willing to step out in faith, trust Him and start collecting, then He would open all the right doors at all the right times to get these clothes there in time for winter.
And that is exactly what has happened. There have been so many challenges to overcome, but I have seen many prayers answered, sometimes in the most miraculous ways. In the end I had more than enough for a lorry, raised more money than I needed, and sent the lorry off two and a half weeks early. That one lorry has turned into 83 in three years. It has been such a privilege to be able to play a part in this.
To date there have been hundreds of people from many different communities involved in this project, and more than 350 churches across the UK that have organised collections. I have been so encouraged to see such a great number of people from different backgrounds, different faiths and no faith coming together to do something to show some love and care for these brothers and sisters of ours who are suffering so much.
It has been so inspiring to see the way every need for this project has been provided for, every step of the way. Often with things that I didn't even know I would need, but couldn't have managed without. And the money!
Before taking this on, I had no experience in fundraising or charity work. Yet since October 2014 we have sent more than 80 artic lorries and containers of aid to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. We have clothed more than 230,000 people, sent 11 ambulances and a range of specialist medical equipment. We have also opened two hospitals in Syria providing emergency medical care and are in the process of building a critical care hospital.
People often say that I must be proud of what I have achieved, but I don't see it that way. Having seen the way this has come together, I feel truly humbled to have been able to serve Jesus by playing a part in it, and to have seen the way every detail of this work has been provided at exactly the right time. It has been awe inspiring! This has been such a privilege to be part of, and I am excited to see what is going to come next.