Lydia* is on the ground on behalf of Open Doors this week. She reports what an Iraqi church is going through, and how Open Doors donors are making an impact in their daily lives, for His glory:
Once, having a home was not even a thought to them. 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 they can find 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 line is in front of it, each waiting for their turn one by one. 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 means that many Christians will leave the country or at least want to be prepared for it. 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 Muslims friends turned against the Christians and wanted them to leave. They even helped ISIS drive them out. “It felt like a stab in the back- betrayed by close friends. 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. Some tears are fine, but I don’t want to burst here… 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 interferes; he tries to calm the man down and keep him from fighting. The man has been given a place to sit, but he is still speaking with a loud voice. At last, he is quieting down a little. 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?
Thank God there is comforting here, as well. During the tour, father Emmanuel is called on the phone many times. Everywhere he goes, people ask him to solve problems or just to have a chat. He always shows them kindness, attention and compassion. This man must be under a lot of pressure, and 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. While he signals that he is thirsty, he points to the little bottle 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 all of peoples’ thirst, whether it be physical or spiritual. Psalm 143:6 “I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.”