For centuries, Christians have raised money to buy fellow Christians out of horrible slavery and what is if not certain death, a life of horrible abuse. Entire religious orders were devoted just to this task, such as the Trinitarians and the Military Order of Mercy.
226 Christians were horribly captured by ISIS in February 2015. A story like this would normally have a horrifying end, but thanks to the work of Christians around the world, they were able to buy them all out of slavery:
The millions in ransom money came in dollar by dollar, euro by euro from around the world. The donations, raised from church offerings, a Christmas concert, and the diaspora of Assyrian Christians on Facebook, landed in a bank account in Iraq. Its ultimate destination: the Islamic State group.
Deep inside Syria, a bishop worked around the blurred edges of international law to save the lives of more than 200 people — one of the largest groups of hostages yet documented in IS’s war in Syria and Iraq. It took more than a year, and videotaped killings of three captives, before all the rest were freed.
Paying ransoms is illegal in the United States and most of the West, and the idea of paying the militants is morally fraught, even for those who saw no alternative.
“You look at it from the moral side and I get it. If we give them money we’re just feeding into it, and they’re going to kill using that money,” said Aneki Nissan, who helped raise funds in Canada. But, he said, there were more than 200 lives at stake, “and to us, we’re such a small minority that we have to help each other.”
The Assyrian Christians were seized from the Khabur River valley in northern Syria, among the last holdouts of a dwindling minority that had been chased across the Mideast for generations. They trace their heritage to the earliest days of Christianity, their Church of the East founded by the apostle known as Doubting Thomas. To this day, they speak a dialect of Aramaic, believed to be the native language of Jesus. But most also speak Arabic and some Kurdish, the languages of the neighbors who have long outnumbered them.
In a single night of horror on Feb. 23, 2015, IS fighters attacked the Christian towns simultaneously, sweeping up scores of people and sending everyone from 35 towns and villages fleeing for their lives.
At 1 a.m., Abdo Marza was awakened by the sound of rushing water in his village of Tal Goran. Somewhere upstream, the dam that had almost entirely cut off the Khabur River in the mid-1990s was open. The men were taking shifts guarding the village and it was not yet his turn. For the first time in many weeks, there was no sound of gunfire in the distance. He settled back into an uneasy sleep.
Around 4 a.m. Islamic State group fighters streamed in, firing their guns and kicking at doors. They herded the terrified residents into a home at the edge of town.
We didn’t know why they took them, we didn’t know where they took them, what they wanted to do with them,” Saadi said. Were they going to be enslaved, traded, ransomed?
The answer filtered down from the bishop: IS wanted money.
The price was daunting. The militants’ starting demand of $50,000 a person would mean more than $11 million for the entire group.
“There’s no easy way to give them money. It’s very dangerous, it’s also illegal in many countries,” Saadi said. “And the money they were asking for, no one could afford that kind of money.”
In Canada, after an emergency meeting, Canadian Assyrians pooled around $100,000 to help the Khabur Christians and sent it off to the church to use wherever it could do the most good, Nissan said.
“Every Assyrian I know knows somebody that was either kidnapped or directly affected by the kidnapping,” he said.
In the German rustbelt town of Saarlouis, a chain-smoking Assyrian entrepreneur who owned two restaurants suddenly found a cause more important than his businesses. Charli Kanoun had persuaded the government there to accept the freed Tal Goran hostages. His next task was to raise money for the rest.
“Everyone contributed; the church opened an account in Irbil, Iraq, and announced it on the internet so everyone can donate,” Kanoun said.
On the outskirts of London, Andy Darmoo ran the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization in addition to a crystal chandelier business. He was one of the first people the bishop had alerted about the ransom demand. Darmoo and just a handful of Assyrians were the only ones who knew exactly how many Christians had been taken: 226.
In Australia, Nicholas al-Jeloo, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne whose cousins were among the hostages, gave a slide presentation on the history of the Khabur at a local church hall. Much — but not all — of the audience was from the Assyrian community, and more than 500 people donated that night, he said.
Al-Jeloo spent his childhood in Australia hearing about the trials inflicted upon the Assyrian people, how they managed to stick together, keeping the same dialects, the same customs, and even the same village names as they moved from Turkey to Iraq and finally to Syria. He himself had visited there to complete his family tree.
The calls for donations went out across social media, but primarily on Facebook, where second cousins and friends of friends found themselves in the same networks, anxiously asking for solid news or, failing that, rumors. On May 26, two elderly women were freed. On June 16, one man was released. On Aug. 11, 22 more people were liberated and many in the diaspora hoped the ordeal was nearly over.
“For the Assyrians, the Khabur was one of their last cultural strongholds in a sea of hostility in the Middle East,” al-Jeloo said. “If they didn’t help these people, it was the end.”
Then in September 2015 came the video showing three Khabur men, dressed in orange jumpsuits, being shot to death by their captors. It’s not clear what prompted the killings — whether the ransom demands had changed, the Islamic State group’s cash was running low, or the captors had simply grown impatient.
“When that happened, everybody went crazy and money started flying in from all over. Churches, and donations, Assyrians, non-Assyrians, just donating to the churches and funneling it to the bishop,” Saadi said.
They didn’t see other options.
“We can’t fight them, Assyrians don’t have an army to go rescue them. They don’t have SWAT teams, they don’t have SEAL 6. The only option they have is to pay ransom. And everybody was so fearful that the rest of the hostages were also going to be killed,” he said. (source)
One must not forget the fact that purchasing slaves from slavery is enough. Ultimately, the slavery must be physically stopped, and usually through military means. That was what happened in 1805 when US Marines landed in North Africa and forced the Beg of Tripoli to sign a peace treaty with the US.
However, for most of us who cannot militarily invade the Muslim world right now, this is a very effective thing that can be done. Just as those who were made free thanks to your help.
St. Peter Nolasco, founder of the Mercedarians, ransoming Christian captives in Morocco during the 13th century.