Our partner organization in Iraq recently shared both prayer requests and praises from Iraq to help you know how to pray specifically with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East as they continue to walk through persecution and hardship–and look hopefully toward 2018.
Praise God that this December, thousands of Christian families celebrated Christmas in their homes in their villages and towns in the Nineveh Plain in Iraq. This was their first Christmas after being displaced for the past three years because of ISIS.
Continue to pray for the situation in Iraq. Though the government in Baghdad has officially announced the liberation from self-proclaimed Islamic State and declared the day (December 10, 2017) an official holiday to celebrate the victory, Christians are still facing many incidents and trouble because of the occupation and because of the mentality IS has planted. Last November, for example, Christians who returned to the villages found mines planted in their fields and houses, others were harassed or attacked in some way or another.
Pray for peace in Kirkuk and the whole country. Father Faris, a priest from Kirkuk asked: “The only thing we need is peace. When peace is there, then everything else can improve in the country.” Kirkuk is rich with oil, resulting in continuous conflicts rising between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments who each want to include the city in their territories. As a result, people there always suffer the consequences of the political disputes, which affect Christians even more as a minority. They are often the first to be targeted.
Pray for villages in the Nineveh Plain and all the returned and returning families. Christians see that Muslims are striving for more power in the area. For example, they want dorms for Muslim students in Qaraqosh, and there are attempts to run administrative and governmental offices. However, according to some priests, the church still has enough power to stop that. But there are fears that one day the church will be in an embarrassing situation.
Pray also for safety in the villages in the Nineveh Plain. There are so-called “protection units,” such as Alhashid Alshaabi (Muslim Shiite forces) to protect the area from extremists. But we are getting reports of harassment of Christians by those forces. Sometimes these forces even tell the people that because they participated in liberating the lands from IS, they should own properties there. Lately, they also harassed two women, which upsets the Christians. This behavior can even cause the displaced people who have not yet returned to their villages to stay away from the Nineveh Plain.
Pray for the youth who have returned to the Nineveh Plain. According to Father Ammar, a priest from Qaraqosh, “Many young people have returned, but they’re experiencing inner conflict. They have returned with their families, but in fact, many are not sable with thtisfied or comfortais decision,” especially because services are still not intact. People are suffering from the bad roads/streets in Qaraqosh and lack of electricity and water. Many suffer from skin infections, probably because of the polluted air.
Pray for the Christian children in Iraq to live their childhood the “normal” way. Father Daniel from Bashiqa requested: “We wish our children to live their childhood.” He says that he often is sad because of very young children playing with toy guns. “Children are like the backbone for the family. If they’re well directed, the whole family will be happy. Children can also encourage their family members to come to church.” He shared how he encouraged children to attend the church daily for some teaching, praying together and singing Christian songs and noticed that they were hurrying after finishing school to come to the church. Because of the willingness of the children to go to the church, their families are attending the church more than before.
Pray for Christians who are still missing since IS controlled Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in 2014. A number of men and women disappeared since that time, and there is no news about them and their whereabouts. Attempts to find them have failed, and their family members long to hear from or about them.
Pray for those who have returned and are still living the nightmare of their captivity with ISIS. For example, two Qaraqosh women, Rana Behnam (in her early 30s) was liberated in August, and Rita Habib (now 30 years old) was freed in November after three years of kidnapping. ISIS tormented them both physically and emotionally, forcing them to watch videotapes of beheadings. Both women were raped and sold from man to man as sex slaves. Pray for their inner and physical healing.
Pray for the priests and the church committees who are working continuously to provide for the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have returned to their homes. With the continuous needs and demands of Christians and seeing the suffering, some priests are burned out. They must deal with the Christian families on social, psychological and even economical levels. They also play a role whenever there are problems inside the family or with other people. Additionally, the priests must be present at the police stations; some have a role in court. As a result, they are witnessing the problems of many people, which becomes overwhelming at times. They need time for themselves, for their rest, and for their families too.
Pray for the living situations of many Christians. Some aren’t able to finish at universities due to lack of finances; others are suffering because they’re out of work–especially true of families in which someone has a severe illness and requires surgeries or medical treatments in addition to their other living expenses like renting a house and paying for kids’ transportation to and from school. All of these expenses become a burden for those who are displaced and/or do not have a fixed income.
Praise God for the work of our partner organization who is restoring hope through micro-loans to a number of families. These loans are bringing new opportunities for providing a living. According to reports from our partner, micro-loan investment is a successful way of working and a means for helping people stay in their country.
Praise God for Christians who are willing to stay in Iraq. Pray with these believers that they will feel comfortable with their decision and will be able to stay. Many families love their country, whether they are in Baghdad, the Nineveh Plain, Kurdistan or in other places. They want to stay. In fact, they feel sad every time they hear about another Christian family leaving the country for good. They want stability and to be surrounded by their family members, relatives and friends. It’s a struggle when a person sees his/her beloved ones emigrating; there is only a small chance of coming together again. Stability in the country and an end to the continuous attacks on Christians will allow them to stay.
Pray with all those who came from different backgrounds, whose eyes were opened to the truth. They believe in Jesus and for some of them, it’s not easy to keep the Good News to themselves. They want to share it with others. Their lives are in danger even more in the countryside where they must practice their Christian faith in secret. Increasing numbers are coming to the Lord after the IS invasion and occupation.
Pray for all people who believe they “worship God” but in fact are so far from God. They do terrible things in the name of their god. Please pray that the Lord will open their eyes to see and know Him; pray they will know the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that they will start to live according to His will.
Pray for Iraq’s leaders–government leaders in Baghdad and Kurdistan and whoever has the power to make decisions that affect the population. Pray for wisdom for these leaders, that they would have mercy in their hearts. One Iraqi Christian says, “Many people in Iraq became victims of bad decisions by those who only think of their own self-interests without caring about innocent and poor people who suffered so much and keep suffering.”
Please pray for a better year to come for Iraq in general and for Christians in particular. A year full of optimism, hope and stability. Christians have been displaced, attacked and have suffered so much during the past years. Let’s hope and pray for a good 2018, for peace and resettlement, in God’s name.
Photo above: In early 2017, this Iraqi family returned to the village of Telskuf, once occupied by ISIS. They are living with relatives; their own house was hit by a chemical rocket.