Inside, however, four women smile as they bake traditional Iraqi flatbread—5,400 loaves daily—their quick movements make for a well-oiled assembly line. Two stand in the corner, plunging their hands into a silver dough bucket and deftly forming balls, which line a shelf along the back wall. The other women work in front of the open industrial oven, mirrored in the shiny steel, flattening each loaf pizza-style before smoothing it over a hard pillow and sending it for a spin on the oven’s black grill.
After the loaves begin to brown, one of the women stacks them on the oven’s lip, away from the flame. A man, baker’s hat perched on his head, transfers the loaves to the counter below the window. As soon as he slides open the glass pane, several children wave white slips of paper inside the window, hands hovering dangerously close to but never quite touching the fresh loaves.
Within seconds, the baker returns to the oven and another man, the bakery manager, takes the voucher from the first boy and hands him a pile of bread, a single piece for each family member. One by one, the papers pass through the window, bare hands receiving the still-warm sustenance to carry back to their tents.
In this camp, where around 23,000 internally displaced people (IDP) live, each family picks up bread once a week. Not only does the fresh bread allow the IDPs to enjoy an Iraqi staple in their diets, it also frees up some of their limited money to invest in other needs.
Through a local pastor, OM funds production costs for this bakery and its twin, located at another camp about half an hour away. Together, the bakeries produce around 10,800 loaves a day, six days a week, and provide jobs for eight women from the camps, along with a baker and manager.
At the second bakery, 20-year-old Amira* steps aside to chat for a moment. She lives in the camp with her parents and six siblings. Smiling widely, she explains through a translator why she loves the job she’s had since the bakery opened five months prior.
“God gave us the mercy to work here and help our family,” she says. Trained in all the production stations, she and the other women begin working at 4:00 in the morning, finishing around 14:00.
“Before I started working here in the bakery, I just sat in the camp and did nothing. But inside my heart I wanted to help [my] people. I think God gave me this job so I can help my people.”
Lucas*, who works with the church sponsoring the bakeries, explained that usually the women living in the IDP camps never leave their tents. “If the woman leaves the tent alone, people will ask her questions: Where did you go? What did you do? It’s very hard for them,” he says.
For Lucas and a local pastor, the bakeries provide a tangible way for them to help the people God has laid on their hearts. Even before the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded Mosul in June 2014, Lucas had visited the area a handful of times, praying about how he could help this particular people group.
“When ISIS came, God said, ‘You cannot go there, but I will bring the people to you,’” Lucas remembered. Once the IDPs arrived in their area, he and the pastor asked a camp manager how they could help.
“If you want to help them, build a bakery,” the manager replied. In fact, they built two.
When the first bakery opened, the pastor offered the job to women in one of his discipleship groups, composed of several families who prayed with him to receive new life after hearing him explain the story of Jesus. Now, twice a week, these four women continue their discipleship journey.
Please pray that these women deepen their faith in Jesus. Pray that those working in the second bakery will also come to know Him as their Lord and Saviour, bringing not only daily bread but also the Bread of Life to their neighbours and friends.
Will you help spread Jesus’ love by sacrificially giving to meet the continuing needs in Northern Iraq? Visit http://www.om.org/en/give to donate to OM’s Syrian and Iraqi Relief fund.
Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.
Credit: Nicole James · © 2016 OM International