Taking Healing to the Broken Women of Syria and Iraq: Ashleigh Harrington - Hope 103.2

Taking Healing to the Broken Women of Syria and Iraq: Ashleigh Harrington

In 2015 the New York Times reported that Yazidi women were being used by ISIS as sex slaves. Now, the stories those who've escaped and are being restored.

By Clare BruceWednesday 10 Aug 2016Hope MorningsNewsReading Time: 5 minutes

Listen: Ashleigh Harrington (pictured above, at right) talks to Emma Mullings about her work in the Middle East. 

In August 2014, the world watched in shock as Islamic State rounded up the Yazidi people of Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq, before murdering their men, and abducting their women and children.

Then the New York Times revealed in 2015 that those women and girls, some as young as 8, had been turned into sex slaves for ISIS, in line with their brutal ‘theology of rape’. Hillsong pastor Bobbie Houston famously tweeted about the shocking situation urging people of faith worldwide to pray for God to intervene.

Now, two years after that mass abduction, Hope 103.2 has been privileged to hear some of the stories of women who have escaped captivity and are now being restored.

We caught up with Ashleigh Harrington, one of many field workers bringing healing to those very women and girls that the world has been praying for.

Stories of Hope From the Yazidi Women

Ashleigh Harrington and Yazidi women

Above: Ashleigh Harrington and Yazidi women gather under a rainbow sky

Ashleigh, a 31-year-old from America, has travelled the world for years, sharing the hope of the gospel, but for the last 16 months she has settled in to the Middle East. There she has been working with a therapy program helping ISIS victims, especially the Yazidi women, to rebuild their lives.

Ashleigh told Emma Mullings that although an estimated 3700 women and children are still in captivity, many have been able to escape their ISIS abductors.

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“I can’t give detail of their escape stories, because a lot of the methods in which they escape are still being used, but they’re very very smart, very observant, and they use a lot of wisdom and are able to escape.”

The program Ashleigh worked with provided both therapy and education to help people recover from their trauma and have hope for their future.

“We had a 10-day program that provided different forms of therapy, like art therapy and music therapy, and a safe space for [the women] to express what’s in their heart,” Ashleigh told Emma Mullings.

“Culturally it’s not an easy thing for them to express the things that have happened while they’re in captivity. We provide a safe space to say, “We love you, you’re safe, you can scream, you can yell, you can cry, and express what’s happened to you.”

The Power of Music to Cross Language Barriers

Ashleigh Harrington and Yazidi children

Above: Ashleigh teaches a lesson to refugee children

The program Ashleigh worked with was government-supported and didn’t allow room for sharing the gospel, however Ashleigh described a moment when she was able to bring the hope of Jesus through simply singing.

“During our group therapy we’d do a thing called the Tree of Life,” Ashleigh said. “Each woman would draw the roots, the ground, the trunk, the branches, the leaves and the fruit, and it would be a description of different seasons of their life. After they shared their story then the Yazidi women would go around and speak something about what they appreciated about that one woman. Then as a staff we got to go around and speak life and the beauty of what we saw in them.

“She just began weeping…she didn’t understand English but she didn’t need to because Jesus, His presence, was there.”

“I remember one girl in particular, she was a 16-year-old girl and I felt like the Lord was saying, ‘ask her if you can place your hand on her heart and sing over her’.”

While Ashleigh felt it was a risky idea, she felt prompted by God and asked anyway.

“She said, ‘Of course’, so I came to her, placed my hand on her heart and she lifted her hand and placed it on mine, and I began to sing over her ‘I believe you’re my healer’.”

Using Worship to Bring Healing

Ashleigh said the emotion of the moment was palpable.

“She just began weeping…I felt the presence of Jesus so strong,” she said. “The girl didn’t understand English but she didn’t need to because the power of Jesus, His presence, was strong enough and He was there and was healing her. That’s something God has taught me so much in this past year—the power of His presence, and what the power of worship does in such a dark situation, how it shifts the atmosphere.”

In A Dangerous Region, But Unafraid

Yazidis flee

Above: Refugees in the Middle East fleeing their homeland

When asked if she ever feared for her life working in a dangerous region like the Middle East, Ashleigh said she chose not to base her decisions around the risks.

“I think you have to come to place in your heart recognising that you could lose your life at any moment, but it can happen here in this country as well,” she said.

“When the Lord says go, I would rather obey Him. I think life is short. We don’t have time to buy into that spirit of fear. Perfect love casts out fear. So I go in with the power and authority Jesus gives and asking for discernment and wisdom along the way.”

The Middle East: A Region Filled With Hope Despite Fear

Like many Christians working internationally in humanitarian and missions work, Ashleigh has travelled to many parts of the world and speaks four languages fluently.

“I begin each year praying and fasting for different nations and God really highlights countries that are under a lot of persecution,” she said. “I love interceding for those groups of people and for those nations and asking God to open those doors to go and serve in some capacity.”

She said she has particularly loved her time in Iraq.

“There is no greater place to be and no better time to be here than now.”

“I think the longer you’re in a nation and the longer you get to invest into a people group, there’s something really special where they become like family to you.”

While the news media focusses largely on the devastation in the Middle Eastern region, Ashleigh said she has been amazed at the miraculous ways God is at work there.

“There is no greater place to be and no better time to be here than now,” she writes in an online blog. “I cannot tell you the number of miracles I am hearing of God healing bodies, minds, and hearts throughout this region. God is taking the most evil situations and turning them for His good and changing the hearts of some of the most brutal terrorists in the world.”

After travelling and speaking in Australia, Ashleigh is now returning to the Middle East to continue working with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

More Info

Find out more about Ashleigh Harrington and read her blog, on her crowdfunding page.