Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have set up no less than half a dozen TV series and pilot prospects in the past six weeks. They also have two miniseries lensing overseas at present, NBC’s “A.D.” and CBS’ “The Dovekeepers.”
Amid this whirlwind of activity, the pair are devoting time and considerable money to sounding the alarm on a humanitarian crisis that is deeply personal to them. Burnett and Downey have established the Cradle of Christianity Fund, in partnership with the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Global Engagement, to help ease to plight of about 800,000 displaced Christians in Iraq and Syria.
Cradle of Christianity is a response to disturbing reports of persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS and other terror groups. The displacements that started a decade ago with the post-9/11 U.S. military action in Iraq have worsened in recent months.
The goal is to raise $25 million for relief efforts and to push the U.S. and other countries to acknowledge the threat against those who have lived in the region for centuries. Many have fled to the Kurdistan area of northern Iraq, where refugee facilities are not equipped to handle the influx of families. Burnett and Downey have seeded the fund with a $1 million donation.
The duo is invoking the catchphrase from “Game of Thrones” in an effort to underscore the urgency of the situation for people driven from their homes.
“We are saying ‘Winter is Coming’ because that is the crisis that we are facing right now,” Downey told Variety. “Imagine that you have these people who have been driven from their homes, and managed to survive an impossibly difficult journey only to die of exposure in the cold as the severity of winter is about to arrive.”
Burnett and Downey are in the process of reaching out to friends in showbiz and the business world in an urgent fundraising push. The two typically try to keep a low profile in their charitable endeavors, but in this case they decided that their celebrity was an asset given the urgent need.
“If that makes more people aware of what is going on in Iraq and Syria, then we decided to let that awareness happen,” Burnett said.
Burnett and Downey enlisted Chris Seiple, president of the Institute of Global Engagement, and Rev. Johnnie Moore, who works closely with the couple on faith and philanthropic projects, to go on a 10-day fact-finding mission to Iraq and Jordan last month. They wanted a first-hand report on the conditions before launching the Cradle of Christianity Fund.
“It is so complicated from a political point of view,” Burnett said. “But these are Christians who have lived there for thousands of years together with Muslims and Jews and people other faiths. Suddenly, everything’s changed and you have terrorist groups trying to overtake these countries.”
Adds Downey: “We want to wake people up to the horrors going on over there and speak out on behalf of religious freedom.”