Brainwashed By ISIS: How Extremists Are Recruiting Children and How ATP Ministries Is Fighting Back.
They say the worst thing for a parent is to outlive your child. But what about having your child abused, tortured, brainwashed, and then sent to kill you? This is a reality for the many parents whose children are either kidnapped or recruited by ISIS. Every few years a new propaganda film comes out featuring children, but it is hard to pinpoint accurate numbers and information because of the ongoing risk to ISIS-controlled areas.
Fortunately, Victor Marx and All Things Possible Ministries are not afraid to go to such places and are seeking to give relief to those children who are fortunate to escape ISIS. They are also working with local powers to protect future children.
Victor shared with me the link to a story on children being used by ISIS and wanted people to get the real story of what is happening and what ATP Ministries is doing about it. So I asked Victor to help me understand this issue in a little more detail. After our conversation, I had two realizations: that Victor knows a lot about this matter, and that there is a lot of misinformation out there. I found myself so fascinated by the stories shared with me that I have decided to write a series on ATP Ministries and the people who risk their lives alongside Victor Marx.
ISIS Using Children: The Facts
The reality of the situation is that children have been kidnapped and recruited by ISIS for some time now. Every few months a story is shared about the issue, but it never gains any traction in the media. The problem is that several less legitimate news sources have been promoting articles around the issue, but have been mixing fact and fiction without giving readers a way to participate in solving this crisis. Victor Marx asked me to share what we do know about the situation.
-In 2015, the rate of youth deaths in ISIS’ name was more than twice the estimates.
-89 children and youths used in 2015 for propaganda videos.
-51% of those children and youths allegedly died in Iraq, while 36% died in Syria.
-39% used as suicide bombers.
-In February 2016, it was reported that ISIS was training 500 children and youths in their camps.
There has been a large amount of fake news regarding ISIS targeting kids in America. While these camps have not been proven, the training camps overseas have. However, releasing false information hurts the attempts of ATP Ministries to draw attention to the issue. What I thought was interesting after talking with Victor was how he views these children‒as victims who can be saved‒and his ministry is willing to try. After hearing the testimonies of youth in prison whose lives were changed by Victor, I believe him.
The Psychological Damage
Victor Marx told me that he felt called to do something to help because in his life violence and fear was used to control him. After being treated for PTSD, Victor not only sought healing, he sought to heal others. Since then he has been to many prisons, helping young people overcome the trauma of the past. The trauma inflicted by ISIS is a form of control that gets them to enact unimaginable terror on others. Kids in this situation often have to disassociate emotionally to survive mentally, but it makes them more susceptible to reprogramming.
The use of fear is paramount in getting young people to do what ISIS wants. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse are all tools used to condition a young person to hate others. The sad part is, even those who escape or are fortunate not to be used as suicide bombers will suffer the effects of trauma the rest of their lives.
Victor mentioned to me that part of his healing process was dealing with the feelings of guilt and shame. Research into the psychological effects of children used for violence shows that these feelings are common. When left untreated they make it harder for communities to re-stabilize, as these kids are not trusted. This is something shared by children used in armed conflicts and can have an adverse impact on efforts to re-stabilize a region. Victor Marx and ATP Ministries are working toward not only treating those victims but protecting vulnerable children and preventing them from being abused by ISIS in the first place. Victor explained, “The longer these kids are abused, the harder it will be to treat them, but not impossible.”
ATP Ministries Is Fighting Back
The good news is, there are people equipped with the knowledge, skills, and will to do something about this. ATP Ministries has been utilizing creative ways to help treat the trauma of children in war zones for years. They are so passionate about protecting kids that Victor and his family are moving to Iraq later this year. They have found success in establishing ties with the principal regional influencers in both Christianity and Islam, who are engaged in the ideological war of extremism. Two strategies govern the initiative and ministries of ATP Ministries: prevention and treatment.
Kidnapping is just one of the ways ISIS recruits children; another is through the parents. ISIS thrives in poor areas that have little to no education. Warzones makes this even worse, as families are left starving, and the future for their children is grim. When ISIS tells parents that they will feed their children, house them, and offers to financially help the family, in some cases paying parents $300-$500 a month for their child, it becomes hard for them to say no. Most of them don’t know how their kids will be treated, so part of the struggle is educating parents as to what goes on in these camps.
To educate people and fight against the propaganda broadcasted by ISIS, ATP Ministries has begun supporting the efforts of Sheikh Dr. Abdullatif Al-Humayim, leader of The Sunni Endowment; a highly influential group in the region that has already been fighting the ideological war. Here are some of the tactics that the Sheikh is using to fight ISIS and protect children from their camps:
Cyber warfare. They have deployed a virtual army of over 2,000 people who work every day to thwart, subvert, troll, and challenge the extremist views put out online. The internet has been a primary source of recruitment and a way to convince others of its warped view of Islam.
Spiritual warfare. By training 12,000 speakers at mosques to detect and fight against extremism wherever it may try to take root, these speakers will able to educate the families whose children ISIS wants to recruit and provide accurate information as to the condition of these camps.
Cultural warfare. Setting up refugee camps for those displaced by conflict and helping Christians and Muslims understand each other and live together, thus helping to prevent extremism from taking root. When people are worried about shelter, food, and safety, they are prime targets for ISIS. By taking care of people’s needs, the chance for radicalization is decreased.
As Victor Marx explained, “What most young people need to know is that when they are victims of violence, their brain reprograms itself to survive; and that they are not weird. It’s important that they know it does get better, and I help provide them with proof.” From prisons to war zones, ATP Ministries knows what it takes to reach young victims and employs creative ways to treat them. The goal is to identify those who need help, restore their hope in the human spirit, and interrupt the cycle of abuse and its damaging effects. Here are just a few of the ways in which they are treating children in Iraq.
The Lion and Lamb Initiative. ATP Ministries provides therapeutic stuffed animals for victims in Iraq. These animals come with tapes that play soothing music, words and affirmations. The animals improve the healing process and help bring comfort when children are feeling scared. Click here for the latest report on this initiative: http://victormarx.com/lion-and-the-lamb/
Providing healing and leadership on the ground. Victor Marx and his family are moving to Iraq to provide direct, on the ground leadership. With the environment and conditions rapidly changing, it is important to have someone there who can adapt quickly. By being there, Victor can constantly brainstorm with other regional leaders to develop brand new ways of treatment. From music therapy to game therapy, ATP Ministries is working hard to provide redemption and healing for former child soldiers of ISIS.
How to Get Involved
“With God, all things are possible,” and the success of ATP Ministry is living proof. The situation overseas is depressing, but I am hopeful after my conversation with Victor. The last question I asked him was, “What can I do to help?” After learning about what ISIS is doing to these kids, I felt I had to do something. If you feel like me, here’s how you can help:
Pray. Victor stated clearly the first thing any of us should do is pray. ATP Ministries has witnessed firsthand the power of prayer, from helping former gang members change their lives to those escaping ISIS. Victor told me a story about how a woman kidnapped by ISIS contacted them on her kidnapper’s cell phone. While they weren’t able to pinpoint her location, they prayed with her. Every few weeks she’d call them, and they would pray. Eventually, she called to let them know that she was able to escape and was hiding with a family in the area.
Call Your Representatives. There is a lot of debate in government right now about how to handle ISIS. There isn’t much talk about what to do to protect kids, which is every bit as important because they become tomorrow’s enemy. Make your representative aware of how ISIS is using children and encourage them to support the efforts of ATP Ministries to protect them. While many seek only to destroy ISIS, Victor believes the children in these camps are like Saul; waiting for God’s healing and an opportunity for redemption. Your representatives need to understand the situation and how they can help. To learn who your representatives are and how to contact them click here.
Donate. ISIS is well-funded, and sadly efforts to thwart them are not. Victor Marx and ATP Ministries are willing to put their lives on the line to protect these kids and work as agents of healing, but it takes financial support. Either we do something about this issue now, or pay for it down the road at an even higher price. Click here to take immediate action against ISIS and donate to ATP Ministries.
What is happening to children overseas at the hands of ISIS is horrific. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, this is something that needs to be addressed now. Victor Marx and ATP Ministries have the experience, tools, connections, and faith to get the job done. When it comes to protecting these kids, sharing memes or posting rants doesn’t solve anything. It might make you feel good, but only until you realize kids are still being kidnapped and recruited by ISIS.
So why not get involved? This organization is willing to put itself in the danger zone, so you don’t have to, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help. In the next few weeks, I plan to look more closely at the people involved and what drives them to take such risks. What they need is our support, to let the world know we won’t stand by as countless children are abducted and abused. After my talk with Victor, what I respect the most about him is that he knows the challenge ahead and is still willing to put his money where his mouth is. The real questions is, will you?
John M Kraps II is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University with an M.A. in Strategic Communication and a B.A. in Communication Studies. Kraps specializes in digital content creation with a focus on social media best practices. You can contact him through Twitter: @JohnKraps.