This is the moment hundreds of displaced Christian families have been longing for: the cross, deemed illegal by so-called Islamic State (IS) militants, has returned to the village of Karamles in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain.
Gradually the news comes in to the refugee communities: Qaraqosh is free. Bartella has been retaken. Karamles, too.
As soon as it is remotely safe, displaced church leaders living in Erbil climb into a car and travel back to their recently-liberated hometowns – some of the first non-combatants to return to the region after their communities were forced to flee from invading IS militants over two years ago. Among them, is church leader Thabet from Karamles.
Thabet could have left his congregation to seek asylum elsewhere, but instead he has spent the last two years serving his displaced community in an internally displaced people’s camp in Erbil.
As Thabet returns to Karamles, he takes with him a large cross. It is covered in flowers.
“I am so happy I can do this,” he says. “I’m smiling from cheek-to-cheek and I weep tears of joy at the same time. This is the trip I have been praying for for two years now.”
“My dream is to bring back all the Christians to this village,” he says. “Then we will worship outside on Barbara Hill; we will take communion in the open air. Everybody will see that this is the church; this is the body of Christ; this is Christian land. That is my dream – to give a testimony to the world.”
Though Thabet’s church has been heavily damaged by IS, it is not beyond repair. And fears that the Christian village would be completely uninhabitable because of the conflict have, thankfully, not been borne out. They will be able to rebuild Karamles once again.
Open Doors has been supporting believers from Karamles throughout their displacement – not only with practical aid like food parcels, but also with pastoral training and support.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.