Rowan woman serves as missionary in Iraq; responds to current crisis

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - She is known to many in the community as a one time detective with the Rowan County Sheriff's Office, but since her retirement, Debra Yokley has traveled the world as a volunteer missionary.

In February, Debra went to the Kurdistan region of Iraq with a group from the World Missions Alliance, and on Wednesday, she sat down with WBTV's Jamie Boll for a live interview on her experience and her reaction to the current crisis in the country.

The following is a transcript of Yokley's interview:

Jamie: "We are following the crisis in Ira q.  Another 130 military advisors are on the ground there but the Obama administration insists they are not there to fight Iraq's war.  The advisors are assessing the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq where Islamic militants are threatening everyone who is not Sunni, including thousands of Yazidis who are trapped on Mount Sinjar.

"We are joined by Debra Yokley who spent time working with Christians there."

Debra: "Our groups goal was to minister to the people, we brought in Bibles, we were able to visit a refugee camp where there were about 50,000 Syrian refugees.  We were able to put on some children's programs and just love the people, show them love."

Jamie: "You were there in February.  When you heard the news of what was going on there of late, what was your reaction?"

Debra: "I was very concerned for the safety of the people in the area, of course, especially for the children, the Christians, and the non-Muslim groups in the area."

Jamie: "Let me ask you about that because a lot of people tend to forget that there are Christians, obviously, in Iraq as well, and that's a part of the country where the US is well received, right?"

Debra: "Yes, we felt very welcome by the Kurds.  Kurdistan is kind of like a country in a country is how I describe it.  I never felt uncomfortable, never felt, we felt loved and welcome there."

Jamie: "Since you left have you heard anything about the current conditions?  How are folks doing, are you able to have any contact with folks who are still there?"

Debra: "Yes, I still have contact with World Missions Alliance, people there in Kurdistan and also Facebook contact, Facebook is a great medium to talk with these people.  It is a very dire situation.  Very near where we were there are 50,000 more refugees that have come in.  The church we were working with is working to give them food, water, and shelter."

Jamie: "Describe that humanitarian crisis from the communication that you do have, what are they facing?"

Debra: "They're facing a great deal of heat during the day, of course it's desert, they get cold at night.  These people have fled with just their lives and their families and the clothes on their backs, they have nothing."

Jamie: "Did this come out of nowhere for them?  Were they surprised that these forces, these ISIS forces were able to get so close and to cause them so much hardship?"

Debra: "I don't think it was a surprise.  They hoped that it would not occur, but as ISIS progressed I'm sure the fear they had was escalating."

Jamie: "We see now that the US is helping.  How are they handling that?  I'm sure very appreciative of what's happening?"

Debra: "They are thrilled.  Actually the church we were working with, the people there fasted and prayed for two days asking God specifically for help from the US."

Jamie: "When you see the pictures of those air drops coming in, some of the folks getting off the mountain, it must just give you pause."

Debra: "It's great.  You know when you've talked to these people and you've looked into the faces of the children, they're real people and you know they really need this help."

Jamie: "Any doubt you'll go back at some point?"

Debra: "I would love to go back."

Jamie: "Any pause at all with that? Are you worried about it?"

Debra: "No, I'm not worried about it.  God's just given me peace.  I'm not sure I'll get to go in November.  World Missions Alliance is planning a trip back in November.  I don't know if I'll get to go in that group or not."

Jamie: "Do these types of trips, for those who haven't been on a missionary trip, it could be Iraq, it could be South America, Central America, these are life changing events for the people who go aren't they?  Describe that for folks."

Debra: "You never go back the same.  We realize how spoiled we are in this country.  I really thought I was and I realized how fortunate I am in this country."

Jamie: "I know, I've done a couple of them myself and when you come back and you think about I'm going to complain about service at a restaurant, it's a first world problem.  Tell me a little bit more about this location, what you were dealing with…you see some of the faces of the children and you just pray that they're not involved in the crisis that's going on now."

Debra: "When you look at these people you just see people that you wonder what they're lives were like.  A lot of them were professionals, doctors, teachers, and they just have nothing now, they're living in tents and trying to do the best they can to survive."

Yokley recently completed a mission trip to Ethiopia and vows to continue looking for more such opportunities.