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Faith, not courage

It’s now over a year since IS soldiers took large parts of Iraq in various military offensives. In the areas they control, Christianity is outlawed and followers of Jesus have been told to leave, pay heavy taxes or die. So, how would you cope living on the borders of IS territory? Open Doors workers managed to interview two Monks, Barnaba and Boutros, who are facing that extreme reality. They live in Mar Mattai monastery near the town Bashiqa on the Nineveh Plains. With the self-proclaimed Islamic State only 5 kilometres (3 miles) away, danger lurks every day. Still they are not planning on leaving. “We aim to be an example by living on the boundaries of IS. Yes, this is dangerous. But our faith enables us to stay. We love to share that with other people.”

How many Christians live in the monastery?

“Currently, we live there with six monks and our bishop Musa Alshamany. We also have supporting staff and students and two internally displaced families living with us. So in total we live with 26 people. Around us there are some small Christian villages where very few Christians still live.”

What does a day in the monastery look like and how do you keep your faith in God so strong?

“We try to keep our daily lives as normal as possible. We teach our seven students, but we also have our daily routines and work activities. Brother Boutros, for example, is very interested in agriculture and dealing with plants. I sometimes help him with that, so we work together in the fields. Our monastery is at the very edge of what is controlled by the Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters]; we are thanking the Lord for that. Of course we also monitor what is going on. Sometimes there is shelling or attacks.”

It must be scary to live so close to IS. How do you deal with the fear?

“Actually, we do not experience a lot of fear. If one of the monks starts to have worries or feelings of fear, we encourage that person to express them. Then the others comfort him. We need this encouragement from each other. We watch out for ourselves and monitor the situation, but we are not afraid because we know God is protecting us.”

How does God play a role for you in this difficult situation?

“We continue to live in the monastery because we have a huge trust in the Lord that He will protect us. Maybe we have more trust than other people. To know that we are only 5km away from IS makes us realise that we always live under threat of death. But our trust in the Lord is giving us the strength we need. Our life is like a testimony. We see that God is testing us through the situation. We can see that people return more strongly to God these days compared to when IS first arrived.”

“We need this encouragement from each other… we are not afraid because we know God is protecting us”

How do you find the courage to stay there?

“It is not about courage, it is all about faith. Our God gives us the strength to be in the monastery and to see that prayer works.”

What have you learned from God in the past months?

“Over the past 10 months and up till now, we have been experiencing the Love of God. We have also learned a lot. I think there have been two messages from God to us, not only for the monastery but for all of Iraq. The first message is for the Christians because, in general, Christians have started to walk away from God. Through these difficulties and bad situations, God is teaching us how we can go back to Him. As a result we testify and experience the love of Jesus.

The second message is about Muslims. Please do not think that we hate Muslims. We cannot hate them because we love them and pray for them. We also pray for IS. What we have learned is that we should show the love of God.

Did you know that many Christians around the world feel connected to the Christians in Iraq and that they pray for you and support you?

“How would we be able to continue our lives as Christians without people supporting us? The internally displaced people would have been miserable if the Christians around the world had not supported them. The churches may have supported internally displaced people for two months or three at the max. But now we are in the tenth month after IS came to the Nineveh plain. We could not have continued without your help.

Always in our preaching and in our prayers we take time to thank God for the people supporting us. We cannot continue without them.

Want to help?

We’re supporting thousands of families in Iraq and Syria as they try to live a normal life in the midst of carnage. Our relief packs contain essential food supplies. Text ODYG15 £4 to 70070 to give £4, which can provide much needed weekly supplies for one person or make a gift on our giving page!

WeAreN_Shirt_MockupGet your own #wearen shirt

Want to get your own version of our #wearen shirt and stand Christians remaining in Iraq and Syria? You can grab one here for just £15. All money raised from t-shirt sales will go to our emergency fund for Iraq and Syria. We now have all sizes in stock, from small to XXL in both guys and girls fits!

We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.