As Iraqi troops inch forward in their ongoing battle to take back the city of Mosul, Christians in the war-torn region continue to face the threat of death, persecution, kidnap and bombings. Yet, according to front-line workers, the prospect of Mosul being freed from ISIS control is unlikely to inspire Christians to want to return there.
“Actually, it’s very difficult for Christians. I don’t think a lot of Christians will come back to his house in Mosul,” explains Wassim Adil Al-keloonchy, Programme Coordinator at Erbil Support Centre of the Bible Society in Iraq.
“It’s very difficult for Christians to get back into Mosul after liberation.”
“It’s very difficult for Christians to get back into Mosul after liberation. This is because they will not trust people in their neighbourhood. It’s difficult to trust them again because you know their neighbours, they helped ISIS to take their houses; everything they have.”
Based in Erbil, one hour from Mosul, Wassim works with colleague Wassan Wadee Ayoob, Trauma Healing Coordinator and accountant for the Erbil Support Centre. They spoke with Eternity while attending a spiritual retreat with Bible Society workers from Lebanon and Syria. These teams from across this region are helping to spread the life-changing news of Jesus in some of the planet’s most volatile territories.
“Wassan was a student at Mosul university,” Wassim shares, translating for his colleague. Wassan lived in the town of Qaraqosh, a 15-minute drive east of embattled Mosul – and the largest Christian town near Mosul, in the safe Kurdistan region. “She was going to her university by bus. A lot of buses – maybe, 50 buses – go every day to the university. One day, they put on the way to the university, a bomb on the street. Maybe four buses were bombed, and that’s where Wassan was. Very horrible; very terrible for her.
“There is another case; they kidnapped five or seven Christian students from the bus. They took them out from the bus, just because they are Christian. They obligate them to cover their hair like Muslims at the university.”
While World Watch Monitor recently reported Christian leaders returning to Qaraqosh, Wassan, Wassim and General Secretary of Bible Society Lebanon, Mike Bassous, are not sure a mass homecoming will occur for the thousands of Christian families which fled fighting in the region.
“For the Christians from villages, I think they will get back,” says Wassim. “But for those from Mosul, I don’t think so.”
“The faith of Iraqi Christians is stronger than any other group or community of Christians all over the world.”
Wassim adds that many Christians still want to leave Iraq for Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan because necessities like employment have been blocked to them. Remaining in Iraq can be due to not having the money to get out. But Mike travels regularly to Iraq and what he has witnessed is how Christianity has powerfully sustained some Iraqi people during decades of civil war.
“The faith of Iraqi Christians is stronger than any other group or community of Christians all over the world,” Mike says. “I’ve never seen stronger faith than Iraqi Christians. They’ve been through so much persecution in the last 30 years. Christians in Iraq have been displaced four to five times since 1980. They have been moved around, shifted around, due to wars and that is why they are now seeking to leave the country. Would you accept, in your last 30 years, to have to be forced to move homes and be a refugee four to five times inside your own country?”
Before ISIS captured Mosul, Wassim and Wassan distributed Bibles and other materials in villages around that city. Based now in Erbil, “we work with partner organisations like World Compassion and Christian Aid; working on distributing wheelchairs, food, and Scriptures, and sometimes we brought doctors from Sweden and America, to visit refugees in camps here in Erbil,” says Wassim. “Just to take care of them.”
“There is joy in serving the church – even in these difficult persecution times.”
As Mike explains, the Bible Society puts on events in Erbil such as free programmes for children, youth and adults on Fridays, along with Scripture distribution. Around 400 people attend, to hear relevant and affirming truth about what God’s doing in everyday life. “That’s simply one way that the Bible Society is supporting and encouraging the congregations to stay steadfast in their faith.”
“We visited a church two weeks ago. A refugee church; this is where Wassan comes from. In Qaraqosh, it is her church. It is a Syriac Catholic church.
“There was a group of 30 young people practicing hymns to sing during Mass on Sunday. Beautiful sounds; beautiful faith. Everyone in my group was crying when they saw the strong faith these young people have.
“Yes, Wassan and Wassim do live in very dangerous places. Only a week ago, seven Christian girls in Kirkuk were almost abducted by ISIS; it was a retaliation by ISIS about a week or ten days ago. No news covered it that they miraculously escaped and now these seven girls are in Lebanon for trauma and psychological healing.
“What Wassan and Wassim would like to say is, yes, life is dangerous and difficult but there is joy in serving the church – even in these difficult persecution times.”More