ERBIL, Kurdistan–

Nearly one million internationally displaced Iraqis will celebrate Christmas in makeshift tent cities, many in Kurdistan of Northern Iraq. Although currently safe from ISIS threat, the region remains strained for resources, relying on international aid to shelter and feed the refugees.

The United Nations declared the tragedy a level-three emergency, the highest classification of a humanitarian crisis. Yet the dire situation has not prevented the displaced Christians from commemorating the true joy behind the Christmas season.

Worshippers in the camp built around the Mazar Mar Eillia Catholic Church in Ankawa constructed a life-size nativity – a reminder of hope in the midst of tragedy.

Worldwide organizations are reaching out to assist the refugees. Among them is Operation Christmas Child, which sent 60,000 gift-filled shoeboxes to the Kurdistan last week.

“Many of these children have never received a gift in their lives and that was when they were living in their normal circumstances [before the ISIS takeover],” Operation Christmas Child Domestic Director Randy Riddle told The Christian Post. “Now, they have been removed from everything that they know: their homes and their families. They are living in the refugee camp and these gifts will provide a moment of hope. Of course, they will be delivered in the name of Jesus.”

“These children will be reminded that there is a God who loves them. That is the point and the purpose of Operation Christmas Child, is to share the love of Jesus Christ,” Riddle said. “We see it as opportunities to share the gospel and we want these children to know that they are loved by not only from people [all over the world] but there is a God who loves them, and that will be the message that these children will hear.”

With the onset of winter, many worry the temporary shelters will not be enough to protect the refugee families.

“Most of them are living in tents without floors. Samaritan’s purse has provided a large number of heaters and winter coats. They are doing the best that they can in a tent community, a tent city,” Riddle said. “These shoeboxes will just be additional forms of encouragement. These conditions are difficult. We are unable to change their permanent condition but we are able to provide a moment of hope and a reminder that these children are loved.”

Last week,the United Nations refugee agency reported that 28 nations promised to accept more than 100,000 people who’ve been uprooted by the civil war.

When not writing, Sierra can be found conducting experiments in the chemistry lab or whipping up delectable creations in her kitchen. With a passion for storytelling, Sierra puts her natural curiosity to use investigating enlightening angles for news and events here at The Oregon Optimist.