Baylor grads serve ISIS refugees in northern Iraq
Not many Americans would willingly uproot their family to move to one of the world’s more dangerous and remote corners. But, Billy (BA ’95) and Dawn (BSEd ’98) Ray feel their calling so deeply that they couldn’t imagine not living in northern Iraq, where they have served with World Orphans since 2008.
The Rays — Billy, Dawn, and their three sons — live in a region of northern Iraq known as Kurdistan. There, ISIS is far more than a news story about a sinister organization far away; it’s a real and present threat. That threat has chased nearly 500 refugees out of their homes, leaving everything they know behind — and into the welcoming arms of Billy and Dawn Ray and their colleagues from World Orphans.
The organization, which Billy serves as Middle East director, is a ministry built to serve orphans — individual children, not dozens of families. But despite a total lack of experience running camps of this size, the Rays and World Orphans saw the need before them and acted. They now operate multiple sites housing fleeing families, working daily to meet the needs of approximately 500 refugees.
Fittingly, the place they first housed the families was already known as “The Refuge.” After moving to Iraq, the Rays has worked with World Orphans to build a community center that would provide services and a place to care for the entire community, complete with event halls, meeting rooms, a playground and more. What they couldn’t have foreseen was that naming the center “The Refuge” would prove prophetic, as it became the first location that refugees fleeing ISIS found shelter. Because the center and grounds had been built and developed, World Orphans had a place to welcome the refugees the moment they heard about the need.
The Rays and their fellow workers continue to adapt to the refugees’ ever-changing needs, growing along with the people they serve. Although the challenges they face are new on a daily basis, ministering to the needs of others has been a way of life for the Rays since their days at Baylor. Fittingly, though, they didn’t actually meet on campus; they met in Turkey, where both were serving on mission trips (and where they lived for several years before moving back to the United States and then to Iraq).
In February, Billy visited Baylor to speak at chapel, where he impressed on Baylor students the importance of Jesus’ challenges to us. “Anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple,” said Jesus — a charge the Rays have made the cornerstone of their ministry.
Sic ’em, Billy and Dawn Ray!