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Members of SHALOM lis­tened to Juliana Taimoorazy, founder and pres­ident of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and fellow at Philos Project. Crystal Schupbach | Col­legian

Smuggled from her home and into hiding in a Switzerland church, Juliana Taimoorazy fol­lowed her father as he led his family to Germany in 1989. Just one year later, the Taimoorazy family came to America as refugees after turning them­selves in to the German police.

Twenty-seven years later, Taimoorazy is sharing her story around the world. She came to Hillsdale on Oct. 4th to speak at an event hosted by Stu­dents of Hillsdale Advo­cating Learning and Observing the Middle East, or SHALOM, where the club screened “Faith­keepers,” a film that is not yet widely released and por­trays the per­sonal stories of oppression and abuse affecting people of faith in the Middle East.  

“When I was harassed and dis­placed, I did not know why all of that was hap­pening to me,” Taimoorazy said. “I was being pre­pared to be worthy of this work.”

The club orga­nized the event after the Philos Project, a Christian orga­ni­zation that pro­motes pos­itive engagement in the Middle East, reached out to the club’s pres­ident, senior Emily Rinaldi. Taimoorazy is a senior fellow with the Philos Project, and also serves as founder and pres­ident of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, where she helps Chris­tians who are expe­ri­encing per­se­cution. She said she never had to ask herself why she advo­cates.

“It’s my identity; I’ve grown up with the per­se­cution story,” Taimoorazy said.

She is the grand­child of a sur­vivor who fled his homeland, trav­eling hun­dreds of miles on foot to the Iranian/Russian border. By the end of the journey, his feet were pen­e­trated by the cloth cov­ering them.

“He was 12,” Taimoorazy said.  

As the film began, she told the stu­dents to think about this stripping of identity, the genocide, the eco­nomic loss, and the post-trau­matic stress dis­order left in the minds of mil­lions.

Sta­tistics flashed onto the screen peri­od­i­cally — “Globally 100 million Chris­tians face reli­gious persecution…In 1915, Chris­tians made up 20 percent of the Middle East… Since 1975, 3.5 million have fled…Up to 700,000 fled Syria in the past 5 years…In August 2014, 7,000 Yezidi men were killed.”

The film explained the Islamic State also per­se­cutes Muslim minorities, like the Yezidis.

Taimoorazy said that, despite the per­se­cution, everyone’s resilience in three things stands out — their faith, their future, and them­selves.

“They lost every­thing through their faith in Jesus Christ, so we are com­manded by St. Paul to stand with them,” she said.

Taimoorazy said edu­cating others and encour­aging them to donate, even in small amounts, to orga­ni­za­tions like the Iraqi-Christian Relief Council, can change thou­sands of people’s lives.

“A priest picked my mom out of a crowd and paid for her edu­cation,” she said. “She instilled the love of edu­cation in me. He helped thou­sands through one person — my mom. The effect is incredible.”

Taimoorazy said the U.S. gov­ernment neglects Iraqi Chris­tians because they are not strate­gi­cally valuable, pos­sessing a fighting force of only roughly 500 people. She said the people of America need to put pressure on their law­makers.

“American Chris­tians have not become one to take us more seri­ously,” Taimoorazy said. “What people need is aid right now.”

Over the past couple years, several Hillsdale stu­dents have taken trips to Israel through a Christian program called Pas­sages, which aims to educate college stu­dents about bib­lical and modern Israel. Both Rinaldi and Vice Pres­ident of SHALOM Rachel Reynolds had the oppor­tunity to expe­rience Israel last December.

“We went to the Gaza Strip, and it was heart-wrenching,” Rinaldi said. “They are in danger everyday of mis­siles landing in their homes. A woman gave us clay disks to write what we wanted and place on the Gaza wall. Despite the turmoil, you still can have love for your country amidst a sad sit­u­ation.”

Rinaldi said SHALOM pro­vides stu­dents the oppor­tunity to learn from speakers on campus year round.

“Learning about Israel [and the Middle East] is a huge step into advo­cating for it,” Rinaldi said. “There are so many complex issues that I feel like people think ‘wow this is too complex; I don’t want to deal with it’ so I feel like it’s my job to help them.”

Lydia Reyes, a junior at Hillsdale who is going on the Pas­sages trip in December, said she wants to bring Taimoorazy back to speak to parish­ioners at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Hillsdale.

“My abuelo was sent to Castro’s gulags in Cuba,” Reyes said. “I grew up hearing these stories, so I feel like I can identify.”

Taimoorazy reminded the stu­dents of the history showing reli­gious per­se­cution in the Middle East has been occurring for 14 cen­turies. She said it is only now that the severity is being exposed to the rest of the world.

“At the beginning of the film, you said that you wanted us to be heart-broken,” junior Katie Kish said. “My heart could not be broken more.”