Hollywood power couple Roma Downey & Mark Burnett start Middle East relief fund

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
Hollywood power couple producer Mark Burnett and wife, actress Roma Downey, arrive at the 65th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California September 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

HOLLYWOOD (Christian Examiner) – Not content to just produce film and television blockbusters that honor God, Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett recently plowed $1 million of their own money into their newest creation: the Cradle of Christianity Fund.

Their goal is to raise $25 million to help displaced Christians and others in war-torn Syria, Iraq and nearby nations.

"The need is simply overwhelming," reported Johnnie Moore, Burnett/Downey's chief of staff, who returned in mid-October with a report on conditions in the Middle East.

Before the 2003 U.S.-led airstrikes, area experts estimated 1 million Christians lived in Iraq. Even before the ISIS reign of terror started with limited engagements in 2012, only about 450,000 were left.

"As of today the number of Christian families who have fled their homes in Mosul has reached 1,094 [about 5,470 individuals]," said Jawdat Ismaeiel, provincial director of the office of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration in Iraq, according to an English-language version of the Al-Monitor newspaper, Oct. 12.

"More than 90 percent of the Orthodox Christians in Iraq have been displaced due to the security chaos which has prevailed over the country for the past generation," reported the same newspaper in an Oct. 21 article about Orthodox Christians.

In Baghdad, only 30 of about 600 families remain; in Mosul, fewer than 10, and all of them too ill or aged to leave. Bazra reportedly is not home to a single Christian anymore.

In Syria, about 10 percent of that nation's 18 million inhabitants were Christian. That was before 9 million people raced from their homes in the months and years after civil war broke out in March 2011.

Where did they all go? They went far enough from the fighting to feel safe enough to stop running.

Three million fled to neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Another 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Some Christian Syrians first fled to Mosul, then on to Kurdistan or elsewhere when Mosul fell to ISIS.

These are people with no change of clothing, torn or no footwear, no food, no water, no shelter, and no money to change any of this. Now it's the rainy season in Kurdistan, where many have fled and soon the snow will fall. What was hot and dry has begun to turn cold and wet, and absolutely miserable – even life-threatening – for those without shelter to withstand the elements.

Refugee camps continue to grow bigger, with a resulting strain on meager food, water, and mats for sleeping, and an uncounted number do not even have the limited support of a refugee camp.

The Hollywood power couple launched the Cradle of Christianity after reaching out to Chris Seiple of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), "a think-and-do tank at the forefront of the emerging field of religion and global affairs" according to its website, www.globalengage.org.

Burnett and Downey said they wanted to help Christians in need in the Middle East, and inked a plan with Seiple to work together to "rescue, restore and return those displaced by extremism and violence."

During the "rescue" phase, the Cradle of Christianity Fund will work primarily with long-established churches to "inject a cash infusion to select Iraqi and Syrian churches because they know their communities best and can identify which families are in greatest need; and provide winterized, waterproof shelter," according to the website.

"Also, we will simultaneously begin our 'restore' phase, using a small amount of money to establish a 'Documentation of Truth' center to record the atrocities committed against Christians and others over the last several months while also recording stories of hope, courage and partnership between Christians and those Muslims who love people and tried to protect their neighbors."

Burnett, Downey and Seiple agreed that all they did together would honor God, be multi-faith and non-proselytizing, and, be at the invitation of regional leaders.

In addition to their humanitarian efforts, Burnett and Downey are developing a reality show on prayer to air next year on The Learning Channel (TLC) Network; a six-part series "A.D." for NBC next spring; "The Dovekeepers" miniseries also set for 2015; and down the road, a remake of the 1959 Charleston Heston epic, "Ben-Hur," set for February 2016.

Information about the Cradle of Christianity Fund can be found at http://globalengage.org/support-ccf.