‘WE ENABLE THE CHURCH TO BE THE CHURCH’
By LORETTA FULTON
Nick Kasemeotes isn’t on the frontline in Syria fighting off a Turkish invasion, but he is playing a huge role in that effort by traveling the Midwest raising funds to help refugees who already were suffering.
Kasemeotes, the gift officer for International Orthodox Christian Charities, was in Abilene Oct. 9, the day of the invasion following President Trump’s announcement that U.S. troops were withdrawing from the region between Turkey and Syria. He visited St. Luke Orthodox Church en route to Dallas to meet with donors.
Kasemeotes lives in Milwaukee and covers 25 states for the IOCC. Money raised for the IOCC supports Orthodox churches in countries all over the world in providing humanitarian aid such as responding to crises, digging water wells and building schools. Since 1992, when the IOCC was founded, it has provided more than $661 million in humanitarian relief and sustainable development programs to people facing hardship.
“We enable the church to be the church,” Kasemeotes said.
And the IOCC isn’ discriminating when it comes to handing out assistance. Ninety percent of the people receiving aid in Orthodox churches in Syria are Muslim, Kasemeotes noted.
The International Rescue Committee, which has an office in Abilene, estimates that as many as 300,000 people could be driven from their homes in northeast Syria by the Turkish offensive.
Before the refugee crises began in Syria, its population was 21 million. Now, Kasemeotes said, 12 million of those are displaced, including 8 million in-country and 4 million in other locations. And that was before the invasion.
Even though the Turkish invasion and the refugee crises before it are viewed through political lenses, Kasemeotes assured that International Orthodox Christian Charities remains non-polical. It does not make political statements, focusing strictly on humanitarian aid. The hope is that eventually, the refugee crisis in Syria will end and people will get to return to their normal lives.
“Most of the people would love to go back and start rebuilding,” Kasemeotes said.
No matter how long the crisis lasts, Kasemeotes said, the Orthodox church will keep its doors open to help people. And they will be aided by the IOCC and the people who support it.
“All the credit goes to the Syrian Orthodox and not us,” Kasemeotes said. “We’re glad we can do what we do.”
On Wednesday, Turkish ground and air forces commenced a series of assaults against a Syrian militia of the Kurdish ethnic group, which had been an American ally in the fight against ISIS but is viewed as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.