Catching up with reformer, Jacqueline Isaac
By Joanna Schaus
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Bio: Jacqueline Isaac is a lawyer and vice president of Roads of Success (ROS), a humanitarian NGO. As an American of Egyptian descent, Isaac has spent over a decade supporting those escaping crises and advocating for the rights of refugees, minorities, and women across the Middle East. She is a longtime friend of Nations and has appeared on the Nations Podcast and in the film, Iraq: A Forgotten Hope.
It’s easy to look at the suffering around the world and try to block out all the pain. It’s complicated and overwhelming at times to even think about taking action. We ask ourselves, who are we to step in? What can we do? In the face of this reality it takes a special person to look past all the complexity and decide to jump in anyway. There are few people who’d face an issue like the immigration crisis around the world head-on. Few people would work to advocate for persecuted Christians on the front lines, empower women, and help sex-trafficked survivors of ISIS pursue justice in court. But, that’s just what reformer, and longtime friend of Nations, Jacqueline Isaac has made her life’s mission. It’s work that hasn’t relented since she was a featured part of our documentary, Iraq: A Forgotten Hope, nor during the COVID crisis. We caught up with Jacqueline to learn about the hopes and heartaches facing her work.
Q: Jacqueline, it’s been a while since Nations has spoken with you. What are some things that have been going on in your life?
One of the major milestones that happened is that I was able to speak before the United Nations Security Council. We spoke on the importance of protecting religious minorities in the midst of conflict. It was a very important time because the UK is pushing for a resolution to focus on the role of religious centers and the protection of religious minorities.
Another exciting thing that has happened with Roads of Success is that we’ve been able to witness our first survivor face their perpetrator in an Iraqi court. To watch a young woman distant from her own house, who went alone, to face her perpetrator by herself, and to be able to be there to support her and encourage her was really awesome. One of the biggest changes that has happened since Nations Media and I last spoke is that we were part of drafting the declaration of humanity. We helped bring religious leaders together to end stigma for survivors of sexual violence and conflict. It’s that partnership, and the unity between governments and religious leaders, that has begun to change the narrative of how survivors are seen in the community. They’re now seen as the ones who are actual leaders in their own community, and that’s because of the voices of religious leaders.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted your work with Roads of Success?
One thing we did with Roads of Success post-COVID is open up a medical clinic in Iraq. In the midst of COVID-19, we needed to help people have access to basic medical resources even when they were feeling completely isolated. The pandemic created severe isolation for a lot of those internally displaced people, but because of the clinic, we’ve been able to give them the medical aid that they needed. We also have a playground that’s been built for young people. Young boys and men have been able to play soccer there, which is really nice to see happening. Last week I got a message saying we were able to help more than one hundred and fifty patients get medicine completely free of charge.
Q: Since Nations last spoke with you you’ve been traveling and meeting survivors around the world. Have the stories you’ve documented made their way into the world?
I feel as though when you’re able to connect with a story, you’re able to better connect to the person. Storytelling has helped me come to genocide resolutions in the UK Parliament and Congress. The girls involved in Roads of Success have been fulfilling their dreams. Some of them are in school, some of them are learning online, and many of them are working. Their stories inspire me because they’re still accomplishing their dreams despite the tragedies they’ve encountered. I’ve seen how the girls build each other up. It’s a domino effect. We see so many stories where young women come out of captivity and advocate for other women who are trapped. I’ve learned through their stories that tragedy can be transformed into victory. Their strength has given me the strength to continue.
“I would say that without a shadow of a doubt, every part of your story matters. It is the pieces of your story, even the painful pieces that give you the ability to fulfill the purpose you’re called to.”
Q: Would you be willing to share about the current climate for religious minorities in the Middle East?
Unfortunately, we found is there has been more persecution and many churches have been closed because of the pandemic. I think one of the beautiful things is we’ve been able to see how even in the midst of persecution during COVID people of faith are uniting stronger, virtually online, using the internet. It’s unique to witness that even in the middle of persecution, they are resilient in their faith and courage.
Q: How have you found the courage to do the work that God’s been asking you to engage in despite fear?
Reading the stories of people in the Bible who have gone through so much and have risked their life has helped me engage in my own fear. I’ll never forget when Queen Esther said when she had to go in front of the king. She said, “If I perish, I perish.” I think that there comes a point in a person’s life where you realize perhaps you were created for such a time as this. Scripture and stories in the Bible give me the courage to continue in the midst of adversity.
Q: What would you say specifically to people who are trying to find their calling or just not sure how they can make a difference?
I would say that without a shadow of a doubt, every part of your story matters. It is the pieces of your story, even the painful pieces that give you the ability to fulfill the purpose you’re called to. Many times I’ve tried to hide or push away the painful moments in life, but I want to encourage people to look within their stories and use them to further God’s kingdom. For instance, when I moved to Egypt my grandmother had just passed away. As a thirteen-year-old, it was very difficult for me to even think about what I’d seen. Years later, when I was in the war, I met other young women who witnessed their loved ones die. Tragically, something in my own pain allowed me to understand, in a little capacity, the grief they were going through. I saw a little piece of my pain be used to advocate for them, and connect with them.
So, what I would say to people who are specifically trying to find their calling and make a difference is to understand that every piece of your story, both painful and joyful, all matters. Lastly, I would encourage people that if you have a dream in your heart, just take small steps of faith. God will come alongside you and he will open the right doors for you. All you need to do is take that first step.
For more information about the work Jacqueline is doing please visit www.roadsofsuccess.org
Joanna is a traveling humanitarian photographer & storyteller capturing the stories of those she meets. She grew up in the Middle East in Afghanistan and Turkey for the majority of her childhood and early teen years. Currently, she travels frequently dedicating time to documenting her experiences through her lens and advocating for others to do the same.