When Islamic State soldiers attacked her town, Athraa, along with her mum, dad, and younger brothers and sisters had to flee. Her life was turned upside down in just one day, and for the last two years she’s been one of millions of ‘internally displaced people’ across the region. But the displacement has changed her more than she could have known: “I did go to church before my displacement, but I wasn’t involved as much as I am now. I spent my time differently. I was an impatient person and always wanted to have things my way.”
“I remember that I wasn’t worrying too much that day. We didn’t think the situation would last long, we didn’t even take our identity papers.” But the days became weeks and the weeks became months. Now Athraa and her family have been displaced for almost two years.
“The first months were a disaster. We lived in many different places. We lived in a wedding hall and a church garden. We ended up in a tent in a sports centre. It was a really difficult.” Athraa and her family of nine spent the burning hot summer months in a small tent. “In the night I couldn’t sleep because I heard the mice running around in my tent,” she explains. “There was not enough water and the food was not that good.”
Now Athraa lives in one of the houses rented by the church. Her home in Quaraqosh was very different: “We were just living there for a month. It was a little further from the city centre, everybody knew each other. I chose a black colour for my walls with stars. My sister painted a butterfly.”
Athraa’s family shares their new house with another family. Smaller families share a house with even more families. They share the kitchen and the bathroom and have to adjust to living so close to a family with different habits.
Despite the fact that she ended up living like this, Athraa isn’t despairing: “I am glad that this happened because it changed my life. After the displacement I was bored, there was nothing to do, so I went to church more often. Soon I got involved with a Bible study group that gathers twice a week.”
“I discovered that every line in the Bible tells us something. But what I like best is when we as a small group celebrate Holy Communion in the way the people in the time of Jesus did. We have a piece of bread and share that with each other. It is something wonderful. It gives me patience to continue my life, to see things from a bigger perspective.”
“We don’t have to spend our time asking ourselves why this happened to us. God doesn’t want to hurt us. He is speaking with us and we need to hear Him and trust Him. I learned that it’s good to spend these days in prayer. IS took our land and our money, but we still have our lives and we have to live them like God wants us to.”
“When you learn these things, you have to share them. I can help God to reach the people with his message. So I want to assist the people in my community to rediscover the richness of faith and I want to be there for them when they struggle.”
Athraa’s church meet in a temporary portacabin and with chairs, not far from terrorists who want to eradicate Christianity. But there is no place she would rather be than here. “I found a peace in my heart, peace in my life. God has made me a more patient and forgiving person. I know that God is with me and that’s the most important thing.”
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