Trauma care in Iraq—How God is working through His Church to heal deep wounds

November 8, 2022 by Lindy Lowry in Middle East

To live in Iraq is to live in uncertainty. There hasn’t been a decade of peace in more than 100 years.

 

Lately, this uncertainty has been on stark display. The country is still reeling from the occupation of large areas by the Islamic State group. Those whose lives were left totally changed by the extremist group continue to carry deep wounds. Many Iraqis suffer from trauma-related symptoms.

Christians, who face continued persecution on top of wars and extremist violence, are no exception. But brave believers are trying to restore the hope of Christ, even in the midst of this broken community.

The spiritual and emotional toll is plain to see. Vian is a 35-year-old social worker from Iraq who is now part of a desperately needed trauma care program our local partner has established in Iraq. Vian’s town of Al Kosh was never taken by the Islamic State group, but it was so close to the frontline that her bags were always packed to flee.

Brother Wisam, a monk who prefers a hoodie over a traditional habit, is a driving force behind this trauma care program. He underscores the need: “If we don’t deal with the trauma in our community, the future of Christianity in Iraq is very dark,” he says. He lives in the same region as Vian.

Through this program, God is on the move.

The loss of trust

“I am not a psychologist,” Wisam emphasizes. “But what I saw working with the people during the displacement and then afterward alarmed me: People cannot get rid of the anger inside of them, triggering conflicts in families; people suffer from sleeplessness, substance abuse and [thoughts of] suicide, especially among young people.”

The brutality of what happened under the Islamic State group is still impacting the entire region. “After [the Islamic State group’s atrocities], people lost their trust. Their trust in each other, their trust in the future, and even their trust in God,” he explains. “You have to imagine that some people lived next to their neighbors for 40 years, but when the Islamic State group came, the neighbors didn’t help [the Christians]; even worse, [the neighbors] stole from the Christians’ houses after they’d fled. If you cannot trust people that you see—how can you trust God, someone you don’t see?”

Vian recognizes what the monk says about God from her own experience. “When people used to tell me about God’s existence, I would be like, but what about the suffering, the torture, the displacement?” she wonders. “It is only through actively working through my trauma that I have been able to see the presence of God in all this.”

h mental health and addressing trauma is not common in Iraq. “As a society, we don’t accept the concept of trauma,” Vian explains. “We see people who are mentally ill as either crazy or lazy.” Even so, it’s obvious there’s a desperate need. “Even in countries with peace, people experience trauma, for instance by violent incidents or huge losses,” Vian says. “Here in Iraq, those things are happening constantly: There were so many conflicts during my lifetime that I cannot even count them.”

And so, Open Doors helped start a counseling school.

Bring lasting hope to the Middle East

Because of your support of Open Doors and your prayers, we’re able to continue supporting efforts like the counseling school in Iraq, and to bring more Centers of Hope into communities decimated by war. Please continue to pray for believers in Iraq.

Help today

Helping people heal

Over the last seven years, an Open Doors local partner has addressed the stigma around mental health care among the Christian community in Iraq. Now, there are three functioning trauma care centers, as well as a two-year counseling school for Christians in professions that encounter traumatized people.

Vian is a program facilitator in the trauma care center in Al Kosh and is six months into her education at the counseling school. It was in one of the sessions of the school that Vian learned to see the presence of God, and she wants to help others to see it too.

“I can reflect the presence of God, help someone out of their sorrow.”

“I meet a lot of people who just need someone to listen to them, [to] clear their minds.”

Through the school, Vian is enhancing her skills to help people heal. “I want to take people outside of their box, let them look at their problem from another angle,” she explains. “I won’t give people the solutions, because there is no one who knows their life better than themselves, but I will help them to find that solution or answer they are looking for.”

The end goal? A society in peace. Both Vian and Wisam strive for that. Vian has already applied the lessons of the program in her own life. “One of the most important things that I learned in the school is co-existing,” she says. “I was previously not able to be in the same room with certain people, but now I can. It is also one of the things we do in the center: help people to co-exist again, with their family and with wider society.”

It’s something that facilitates healing and begins to repair the breach of trust so many Christians felt after the Islamic State group occupation.

“We are all humans,” Brother Wisam adds. “We must realize that we weren’t the only victims of the Islamic State group. Yezidis, Muslims, Christians—all of us suffered. We are one society; we must connect and live together; care for each other.”

People of peace

Wisam stresses that this is only the beginning of the journey. “Because of the projects, many people are at least able to function in their daily lives. They are struggling, … but [they] survive. But wounds as deep as we are facing here aren’t fixed with one training. Creating awareness and achieving healing takes time. It might take years, generations. We have no other way: We must become people of peace.”

Open Doors local partners will continue to walk beside the Christian community in Iraq. With your support we enable the local church to be a beacon of hope in this war-torn country.

“After graduation from the school, I hope to help people in need,” Vian says. “I want to help people realize that others are thinking about them, that people are for them. I want to use the skills I have learned to encourage people, so that we can build a strong and healthy Christian community together.”

Related Stories