The battle for Mosul has meant the liberation of some Christian towns and villages which were captured by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). But for the Christians who fled their homes, returning home will not be quick or easy. And in many ways the hardest thing to repair will be their relationships with their neighbours, some of whom were happy to see them go.
The same questions are being asked by Christians in Syria, where Open Doors trauma counsellors like Kyra* are already preparing for the moment Christians in Syria can return to their homes.
And as long as the bombs are falling, it’s too soon to start talking about healing and restoration, Open Doors’ trauma counsellor Kyra says. “But when the war is over – and it will be over – how are we going to equip the Christians in the Middle East to restore justice and engage in reconciliation? To re-enter in a community where they are marginalised?”
She shares the example of a Syrian Christian couple she met who had to leave their apartment temporarily, fearing the violence near their city. “They had to leave immediately and couldn’t take much with them. A few weeks later they visited their home town. When she came closer to her home, she saw her bedroom sheets being put out to dry by their neighbour. Her coat had also been taken by another neighbour. When they entered their apartment, they found out that it had been completely ransacked. The neighbours they had lived with for years had stolen everything of value.”
Kyra recalls the woman breaking down in tears as she recollected this experience. “‘How on earth am I ever going to return and live with these people again?'”
According to Kyra, the danger is that fear and hatred toward their Muslim neighbours will define Christianity in Syria and Iraq in the future. “Christians might want to protect their turf and may start living in a higher state of paranoia. In the end that’s paralysing. Living in fear and distrust will kill the church and its testimony.”
She sees it as the calling of Open Doors to start preparing the church in the Middle East for reconciliation. “We have an amazing privilege, earned by standing with the suffering church. Our relationships give us an opportunity to influence the healing process of the Christians in the Middle East.”
Kyra sees it as a calling for every Christian to speak out against injustice and to be bold in doing so. “If we believe that we are all part of the same body, then what is happening to the Church in the Middle East is happening to all of us. What happens to my brother, happens to me.”
*Name changed for security purposes
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imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.