Iraqi Christian refugees were supposed to be flying to Slovakia today, but due to a closure of all airports in northern Iraq they were not able to leave.
Slovakia agreed to accept a number of Iraqi Christian refugees. A first group of 150 people were selected, and after months of preparations the first group was about ready to leave the country. But a high official contacted Father Douglas the evening before to let the church leader know that the Erbil airport would be closed for at least 48 hours.
On Sunday evening, a farewell church service was held in Mar Elia church, located in Ankawa, a Christian neighborhood of the Kurdish capital of Erbil. The mass was followed by a celebration with dinner, fellowship and mixed feelings of sadness and joy.
Over the past 15 months the Christian community located in the church garden area has strongly bonded together. All share similar experiences: fleeing from Islamic State, living in various types of tents and now in a container-like shelter, going through the same heat in summer and the same cold in winter. All in this small church garden with very limited personal space.
No wonder that saying farewell included many hugs and shedding of tears. Ramy, 22, said that “it’s difficult for me to smile any longer, but I want to because I believe in goodbyes with a smile instead of with tears.”
Later the faces of Father Douglas and others became grim after the announcement of the airport closure for at least 48 hours.
The atmosphere in the church center changed. The people were puzzled that their departure has been put on hold.
Father Douglas is convinced that the delay has to do with the attacks on IS. He said: “Russia is said to send missiles to several targets, and therefore the airspace needs to be free. My people are a little bit disappointed, but they already have been waiting for 15 months, so two days is not a big difference.”
One of the Christians who was about to travel to Slovakia with his family is Nisam Hekmat. He stated: “They said to me that the travel is now after 48 hours. In Iraq this is ordinary. In other countries that is different, but here it is ordinary to hear good news and bad news. It is difficult for all the families. Friends and families have come to say goodbye and now the traveling is stopped. We have packed everything and gave things to poor families such as rice, oil and other things. But it is ordinary. We continue living in the center.”
Pastor Douglas shares: “My people want to have a future. I’m not trying to provide them a future, but I’m trying to provide a path to have a future. No one is forced to leave, no one is forced to stay. It is a personal decision.”
Open Doors is helping Christians who have been displaced by IS. To help feed a family for $50 a month, go to https://secure2.convio.net/ccod/site/Donation2?df_id=7560&7560.donation=form1&_ga=1.43211565.981393229.1378412015.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Katie Rouse at 678-410-9575.