NORTHERN IRAQ – As Iraqi armed forces continue to force ISIS out of Mosul, the terror group is fighting to keep its hold on the city. The offensive to liberate the city has resulted in an exodus of refugees.
Already thousands of them have tried to escape the ISIS rampage across Iraq. It's a trickle that could become a flood.
CBN News visited one of the many refugee camps throughout northern Iraq. An estimated 20,000 people live in this one alone, with another 30,000 in the vicinity. But experts warn when the city of Mosul falls, it could represent the greatest refugee crisis in decades.
Matthew Nowery leads Samaritan's Purse in northern Iraq.
"There's a lot of potential for this to be catastrophic on the human scale," Nowery told CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell.
Nowery says the internally displaced persons – or IDPs – coming out of Mosul today are different from the refugees who fled ISIS in the summer of 2014.
"The IDPs that are going to be coming out of Mosul have lived two plus years under the control of ISIS. And so they have seen what I believe is the worst terrorism the world has ever seen. And they have been influenced by ISIS," he explained.
Nowery says that makes this humanitarian effort far more dangerous.
"When you talk about a million plus people being displaced all over the desert here in Iraq, it doesn't take long for you to understand that there will be ISIS groups of cells inside those groupings, which brings in a whole new set of challenges," he said.
Despite the danger, Nowery sees the crisis as an opportunity for the Church, especially with the young people.
"Here's why: These youth have been watching ISIS for the last two years and they know what they're being taught by ISIS. And they're about to be displaced into the region, and they're going to be watching to see who receives them and who serves them," he said.
"And so we have taken it upon ourselves as an organization – and we believe that Jesus commands us – to give a glass of cold water to our enemy and to serve," he explained. "And so we want to be there. We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ when these children and when these adults (are in need), whether it is cells of ISIS or not."
Nowery says what's needed most now is prayer.
"The situation is incredibly complex, and I'd ask the Church back in America and the West first and foremost to pray," he continued. "We don't have all of the answers. We don't know how to remain completely secure. This is a dangerous calling."
"But I'd ask for prayers for the people themselves that are going to be displaced – that God would soften their hearts now, that they would be receptive to the message that so many of Jesus followers are going to be out in the desert here in Iraq trying to provide," he said.