Lydia* is on the ground in Iraq on behalf of Open Doors. Here she tells of her visit to Mart Shmoni Church in Ebril, Northern Iraq.
Once, having a home was simply taken for granted. It was as natural as breathing. Not even a blip on their radar. They thrived, and enjoyed life amongst all their neighbors. Now, they find refuge in a park. Any area available to lay their head will now do.
In Ankawa, the Christian neighborhood in Erbil, many people find refuge in a public park. Open areas are now packed with tents. Cloths are tied between the trees so people can find shelter from the burning sun.
The park is across from Mart Shmoni Church. A long line of people is in front of it, each waiting for their turn. I wonder what they are doing inside.
Father Emmanuel Adel Kallo takes us in to see. He explains that most people couldn’t take any official papers with them, like birth, marriage and baptism certificates. If refugees ever want to leave the country, they need those papers as proof that they are Christian when seeking asylum. Here, church workers fill out these forms under supervision of a priest for anyone who needs these papers.
Seeing the number of people looking to get their papers indicates that many Christians will leave the country – or are at least getting prepared to do so. A man tells me that he has no hope that he will be able to go back to Mosul ever again. He lived in a neighborhood where Muslims and Christian lived together in peace. They had meals together. They drank tea together. They were friends. However, when ISIS came, even his Muslim friends had no choice but to turn against the Christians. They even helped ISIS drive them out. “This time, I can’t go back,” he says.
Looking around, I see the same sorrow and disillusion in other faces; it breaks my heart and I have to stay focused to keep my emotions in the right balance.
Father Emmanuel is showing us the churchyard and the public park. Lane after lane, tent after tent, every tree or shadowy place is occupied by elderly people, mothers, fathers, young adults, teenagers and children.
In total, there are about 650 families, and every day there are new people arriving. The place is crowded. At night, even the walking areas are used by people to lay down a mattress. People sleep in the open air along with centipedes, cockroaches and other bugs.
Back on the street, we visit a big tent- the medical clinic. There is commotion at the entrance of the tent. A man is being aggressive; he is stressed and ready to fight his way into the clinic. Father Emmanuel intervenes; he calms the man down and keeps him from fighting.
People are worn out. It is hot, they are traumatized, there’s a lack of water and there’s no way back home. I can imagine I would want to fight with someone at that point, just to release some of the pain inside. I know it is not the right solution, but what else can you do?
But there is some comfort for the people here. During our visit, Father Emmanuel is called on the phone many times. Everywhere he goes, people ask him to solve problems or stop him to have a chat. He always shows them kindness, attention and compassion. He must be under a lot of pressure, yet he is still able to help and be kind to everyone. Not only Christians, but also to the Muslim refugees, Yezidi and other minorities. “Because,” he says: “Jesus loves everyone! He will provide.”
An older man taps me on my shoulder. He signals that he is thirsty and points to the little bottle of water I have. It moves me because I realize that in a normal situation, he would never have asked such a thing from a foreign woman. I give it to him, and he finishes the bottle almost instantaneously.
I pray that God mends the broken and quenches peoples’ thirst, both physically and spiritually.
Psalm 143:6 “I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.”
* Name changed for security reasons…
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.