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August 17, 2015 by Janelle P in

It has been over a year since the Christians of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains were forced out of their homes by Islamic State (IS) terrorists. Traumatized, left without possessions and with no clear view of their future, they continue to struggle with what happened to them. The Syriac Orthodox Church of Erbil conducted a memorial service on Aug. 7.

Two thin mattresses decorate the stage during a sketch dedicated to the first anniversary of the crisis. Thin mattresses represented the poor conditions the refugees have had to live in since they fled their homes. The first actor on stage begins to complain and question God: “Oh Lord, why do you allow this to happen to us? Some don’t even want to live anymore.”

When the second actor begins adding to the list of sorrows, the third actor firmly, yet lovingly, objects.

“You should have hope,” he says. “Do not lose it. Trust in God. Or have you forgotten what the Lord said? ‘What good is it for someone if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul?’”

Two bishops, Bishop Musa Al Shamany and Bishop Nicodemus Dawood Sharaf, were present during the service supported by Open Doors’ partners. The first speaks about Jonah, who went to the city of Nineveh (present day Mosul). Jonah’s prayers while on the boat differ greatly from his prayers during his time in the stomach of the fish. Because of the challenges he endured, his prayers became deeper and his faith became stronger.

“In tents we slept; the heavens shed tears on us,” the choir sings with tears in their eyes. The eyes of the listeners also fill with tears as they continue: “The earth went into grief; we were all silent and speechless.”

The host of the evening mentions that during the rehearsal for this new song, they had to stop several times because of the emotions this song brought up. The listeners understand.

This service communicates the believers’ deep longing to go back to their homes. Another church leader, Father Poulos, encourages the attendees to focus on the spiritual side of things: “We are not in the world to live a fancy life,” he says. “We have to face the current difficulties like our parents did before us and like the disciples did. Jesus said: ‘Do not be discouraged, but keep faith.’”

A Christian man shares that he is touched by the words of this service: “When you suffer, you move from one level to another and praying becomes more profound. It motivates me to pray and continue praying.”

Another believer shares: “Whoever trusts in Jesus will never be brought to shame. This service really helped me to see things from a different perspective.”

The complete song:

A Feast of the Transfiguration* it was

Or a day of excluding us from our villages

We were slapped on one cheek

And the other was offended

In neighborhoods, we were crammed

In tents, we slept

The heaven shed tears on us

The earth went into grief

We were all silent and speechless

We endured Job’s patience

We adore the heaven to be our home

We will go back to sing our celebration

We will go back to ring our bells

We will go back to light our candles

And to pray on our Sundays

*In the liturgical year, Aug. 6 is the celebration of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Iraq is ranked #3 on the Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List ( of the worst persecutors of Christians. To support those displaced by IS in Iraq and Syria: Help feed an entire family for a month for just $50.

Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.

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