Iraq: A Day Filled with Tears and Hope
Lydia is writing about the situation in war-torn Iraq while she is there for a short time on behalf of Open Doors. She is in Iraq to support the local team and to interact with Open Doors partners. She is also there to bring the people she meets the message that they are not forgotten.
I’m sitting in a classroom of a primary school and listening to a story. Not from a teacher, but from the family that lives here. The entire school is filled with people who fled from Qaraqosh, Iraq. Every classroom is a temporary home for three or more families. Most mattresses are now piled up in the corner and the students’ desks are used for storing food. And that is all they have. The fan that was given to them only works when the electricity is on, which is only a few times a day.
A mother, who is in her 30’s, tells me why she had to flee for her life three times. She first fled from Bagdad in 2006. She and her family where threatened by Islamic terrorists. They said: “You are a Christian, so if you stay, we will kill you.” So they left Bagdad.
On their way out, the terrorists followed the car the mother and her family were in and pushed the car over the edge of a hill. After the crash down the slope, she suffered severe head injuries and was barely alive. She showed me horrible pictures of deep flesh wounds on her neck and face. The scars on her face tell me it’s a miracle she’s still alive.
Two relatives died in the accident. Her two sons were with her in the car, but were only slightly injured physically. However, one of the boys could not speak or walk for three days because of the trauma.
After this horrible episode, she and her family built a new life in Qaraqosh. Until June 2014. Fighters of the Islamic State (IS) were getting closer and they fled to Erbil. After about three days, it was said that it was safe enough to go back to Qaraqosh. So they did.
But then on the night of August 6 to August 7, they were alarmed when they were told that within three hours IS would reach Qaraqosh because the Kurdish Peshmerga (fighters), who kept the city secure, were withdrawing. Again they had to run for their lives, but unprepared this time. They fled the city just in time, only with the clothes they were wearing and nothing more.
Tears are in my eyes as I feel her desperation. She says: “If we stay, this will happen over and over again. First we wanted to stay in Iraq, it’s our home and we love this land. But it’s too much. We can’t live like this anymore.”
Her mother-in-law then surprises me by saying that although they have suffered a great deal, God will provide them with the best home they ever can imagine in heaven. She says: “He will wipe all the tears and reward us for everything we have lost. We will be compensated in heaven. This will always be our hope and faith!”
Humbled by this, I just wanted to encourage them and let them know that they are loved by so many people. We showed them the pictures we took with us of the prayer meetings held on their behalf.
A smile lights up the mother’s face and despite the pain and uncertainty about her future, she is amazed and thankful that people care about her and the many other suffering Christians in Iraq.
Central African Republic: Trauma Support Needed for Suffering Christians
At least 34 people died when members of Seleka attacked remote villages around Mbres north of the capital city of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) over the weekend. Not much is known about the attacks, but witnesses in Mbres told media the rebels threatened to step up violence ahead of the launch of the United Nations peacekeeping operation next month.
Last week Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza appointed CAR’s first Muslim Prime Minister, Mahamat Kamoun, as part of a peace deal. Last week residents of the sixth district of Bangui barricaded roads to express anger at Kamoun’s appointment. Not only is he associated with the mostly Muslim Seleka that overturned the government of Francois Bozize and ushered in a chaotic period of impunity, but he also has family ties with coup leader Michel Djotodia. Seleka indicated shortly after the appointment that they too rejected Kamoun and would not participate in the national unity government because they were not consulted about the appointment.
In the midst of the continuing tension, the Archbishop of Bangui, Bishop Dieudonn Nzapalainga, insisted that dialogue is the only solution to the country’s problems. “I am saying it loud and clear, only dialogue and consultation can help Central African citizens sort out the critical situation they are living in.”
Open Doors has been standing strong with the Christians in CAR. It is continuing efforts to equip Christians to be instruments in God’s hands to restore peace, reconcile people, repair lives and rebuild communities. Earlier this month Open Doors staff traveled to Bossangoa once more to present training sessions for trauma care workers. Although there is much that offers hope, Anne, a field worker there explains that the situation remains desperate:
“We traveled to Bossangoa to present training for trauma support people. The situation in the country seemed calmer than it was during our previous visit in July. We could still hear shooting, but it was not as frequent as during previous visits.”
During the training Anne noticed an encouraging eagerness to change among some of the pastors and social workers. There is good leadership and examples of Christians who are pro-actively researching needs in their communities and seeking ways to address those needs.
But sadly, the mental state of the population in general is still very worrisome. Most people have not worked through the trauma they have experienced individually and as a nation.
Anne uses role playing to help participants during trauma training sessions to practice the principles they have been working through. One pastor portrayed the story of someone (maybe himself) who jumped into a pit at the back of his house when he heard Seleka arrive. While in hiding he could hear the horrors of what went on inside the house. When the attackers left, the man got out of the pit and went inside, only to get confirmation that his family had been savagely butchered. He joined anti-Balaka because he wanted revenge, expecting it to ease his pain. But it didn’t. “I want peace,” he ended the role-playing. “How do I get peace?”
“I saw many, many people sitting by the roadside day in and day out with their hands covering their heads – a picture portraying the utter despair expressed by the pastor,” explains Anne.
Peace that transcends all understanding is the only cure for CAR.
CAR is ranked No. 16 on the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians.