Christians in the Middle East have been suffering demographic decline for many years because of persecution and discrimination in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, but by 2014 they faced the threat of extinction.

As 100,000 Christians—around a quarter of those left in Iraq—were forced to flee their homes, Kristina Olney ’09 was building a coalition to do what had never been done before: effectively protect them.

The Australian-born activist’s John Jay externship had placed her with a U.S. representative in Congress. She worked her way up the ranks in Washington, heading up offices in religious freedom organizations that belied her age, and remaining active in the John Jay Institute alumni circles, especially in international relations arenas.

As director of government relations and outreach for the new coalition head group In Defense of Christians, Kristina assembled think tank experts, university professors, and people from on the ground to meet with legislators and aid groups on and off Capitol Hill.

The results have been unprecedented.

We cannot accept a situation where Christians have to leave their homeland, where they’ve been worshipping for thousands of years, or die.
— Kristina Olney '09, In Defense of Christians

What We've Achieved

Melinda Sanchez '12 addresses an IYLA conference on Capitol Hill.

Melinda Sanchez '12 addresses an IYLA conference on Capitol Hill.

  • In a matter of months, IDC had hosted a successful 2014 summit of international leaders to explore action on the issue, and was uniting previously disparate advocacy groups to make the voice of persecuted minorities heard in governments across the world. You might remember it from Ted Cruz’s incendiary remarks making the news, but the rest of the summit featured crucial and productive conversations that haven’t been had in Kristina’s lifetime.

  • Other alumni have helped launch Solidarity with the Pilgrim Church, a sister organization, which recently launched an alumni-designed fundraising campaign to relieve Christian refugees by getting funds directly to church leaders on the ground.

  • "Before you initiate the labor of changing the world, go around your house three times and see what work needs to happen first," Melinda Sanchez '12 told the International Young Leaders Assembly conference on Capitol Hill. Melinda moderated IYLA's Constitution Center Forum in August.