An Instagram clip surfaced last week that shows a group of Christian missionaries praying for the destruction of a Yazidi shrine.
The clip in question, now deleted, came from the Instagram account of Light a Candle, a Christian organization based in Redding, California that is dedicated to spreading its religious message worldwide.
“We break the power of this temple, we break the power of the Satanic curse that it places on people who enter Jesus …,” a member of the group narrated during their prayer.
Adam Mirani, a Kurdish photographer, said he tracked the clip’s location to Baadra, a town southeast of Lalish, in Duhok province, the Yazidi faith’s most holy shrine.
In response to the group’s Instagram post, independent Yazidi Press said in a Twitter post: “These individuals travel thousands of miles to exploit a genocide-torn people.”
The mention of a Satanic curse is especially sensitive, as Yazidi have been accused of devil worship because of their veneration of Tawusi Melek, who some have associated with Satan, according to professor Birgül Açıkyıldız.
The Yazidi community has faced genocide attempts throughout the decades, most recently in 2014 when the Islamic State (IS) overran large swatches of Iraq and Syria. Thousands of Yazidis were displaced and hundreds, including women and children, were killed, or kidnapped. Many are still missing.
Light a Candle says through its website they carry out humanitarian aid through mission trips worldwide, including among displaced people in camps in the Kurdistan Region.
Proselytizing, or attempting to convert someone from their relgion, belief or opinion, goes hand in hand with the organization’s efforts. As they explain on their website: “We believe that humanitarian work done without the hope and message of the gospel does not bring sustainable change and transformation.”
Light a Candle boasts a mere 14,600 followers on Instagram. However, the group updates followers on its missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and other locations.
In a video released on the organization’s YouTube channel last year, showcasing their mission in the Kurdistan Region, members are seen interacting with the Yazidi community, including children, and providing them with toys.
A Light a Candle member states: “We must convey to him [a Yazidi man] that Jesus is the only way to the Father.”
Another member, while engaging with orphaned Yazidis who have lost their parents due to the IS conflict, says: “Our investment every week is gonna see waves of god’s love crash over their hearts, change them.”
Sean Feucht, the group’s founder and president, said in a trailer for an upcoming documentary that they donated more than $100,000 in relief to refugees in Iraq during a previous mission trip.
Murad Ismael, the co-founder of Yazda and Sinjar Academy, said in a Twitter statement on Sunday that he has filed a complaint with the IRS (US tax authority) to strip the group of its tax-exempt status.
“I don’t think a group using ISIS language that justify persecution of a religious minority should enjoy nonprofit status,” Ismael said. He accused the group in a statement posted to Twitter on Friday of creating division between the Yazidi and Christian communities.
The two faiths have shared a long history as religious minorities in Nineveh. Ismael told NRT English that he has written to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s Ministry of Interior on the issue.
He said he believed the group’s followers were “brainwashed” and had “crossed a line.”
Mevan Akreyi, the former manager of a refugee camp for Barzani Charity Foundation, told NRT English that Light a Candle was banned from working in camps in the Kurdistan Region by the KRG’s Joint Crisis Coordination Center and the UNHCR in 2019 because of their missionary activities.
Akreyi said the group was first restricted from operations in 2017 after “careful consideration.”
According to Akreyi, the group was passing out electronic devices to families that included missionary recordings.
Feucht said in a YouTube video posted in 2016 that he passed out electronic bibles in Kurdish on ST cards, stating he was with Peshmerga on the front lines near Mosul.
In another video, he spoke of passing out Christian literature to Yazidi displaced people using Bluetooth technology.
Hannah Buckman, Light a Candle’s project coordinator, told NRT English in response to an inquiry on the group’s reel at the Yazidi shrine that she was unaware of any controversy regarding the post.
She said the group is operating in camps in the Kurdistan Region and was able to reach 10,000 Syrians through their humanitarian missions last year, which includes an annual medical trip.
NRT English contacted two others in the organisation who declined to comment.