Imagine being forced overnight to flee your beautiful home in the city to a small, hot tent in a refugee center, all because you didn’t want to deny your faith in Jesus. It happened to Ramy, 22, from Iraq, who now gives dance classes to displaced children. Together with other lay leaders he participated in trauma awareness training organized by a local partner of Open Doors. Now he is sharing the new hope he received with the people around him.
Cheerful tunes resound through the loudspeakers of the small hall in the refugee center. Nine boys and girls follow the lead of Ramy as he dances from the left to the right, putting his hands in the air. Huge smiles are on the faces of all the dancers, including that of Ramy. Dancing so cheerfully, the children and their teacher could almost forget their struggles, such as the fact that many of their homes are in the hands of Islamic State (IS) terrorists now.
During the summer of 2014 thousands upon thousands of Christians were forced to flee the Mosul area because IS threatened to kill them if they did not convert to their strict version of Islam. Many Christians were harassed and robbed at the checkpoints, losing virtually everything they owned. They were taken in by churches in the Kurdish region.
“There is nothing that prepares even the professional for some of the violent and traumatic experiences the people are facing in Iraq and other areas in the Middle East today,” shares Kyra*, a trauma care trainer who traveled to Iraq to host a training recently. “Our calling is to support the persecuted church and help them build resilience in the midst of their suffering.”
Sleeping in the Garden
After the dance class, Ramy was invited to share how events have impacted his life. Walking around in the makeshift streets he jokes with everyone. He has a sharp tongue and lots of energy. But his eyes become dark when he shares about his flight from Mosul. “Shall I tell you what happened those first days?” Ramy asks us.
As we sit down in the relative coolness of the library, Ramy starts sharing about how he had to flee from Mosul and ended up on a church compound which now looks like a little village. “When we arrived, there was nothing here, just the garden of the church. So the first week we slept on the grass.”
When asked about how he felt those first days, Ramy is quiet for a while. He stares at the ground, then puts his chin in his hand and starts talking. “We were shocked. We couldn’t believe that we had lost everything in just one day and had to sleep on the ground the next night.”
His eyes start to quiver. “We lost our house and our memories. But we had no choice. If we would have stayed in our city without converting to Islam, Da’ash (Islamic State) would have killed us.”
Angry at God
A thousand questions went through Ramy’s head those first months of displacement. “I asked myself why Da’ash had treated us like that. Why did they act like monsters?” Stuck in the camp with fading hope of returning, Ramy became upset. “I just couldn’t imagine a future for myself,” he said. “I was talking with my God a lot; I was very angry with Him for allowing this to happen.”
Ramy’s questions are similar to what Kyra hears from many displaced Iraqi Christians. “People ask themselves when this will end. For many, it wasn’t the first time they had to flee.”
They also worry about their family. Many people are emigrating families, and subsequently, families are ripped apart. “The question of whether they can survive losing more loved ones is a realistic one for them,” says Kyra.
Reconnect to God
Priests and spiritual leaders are the ones displaced Christians expect help from in their trauma situation. That’s why they are the first to be invited to participate in the trauma awareness trainings organized by Open Doors through a local partner. Ramy was invited by his priest, Father Douglas, to participate as well because of his work with the children in the center.
“The training helps participants reconnect with God in the midst of their pain and suffering and shows them how to help others do the same,” says Kyra.
During the three days of training, Ramy and the other participants follow a diverse program. “We use conventional and expressive (art) methods of therapeutic practice and also spiritual exercises such as reading and reflecting on scripture, praying and singing,” Kyra explains.
Hope to Continue
After the training, the participants share what they have learned with those around them. For Ramy, the training was perfect.
“I learned that it is good to ask how a person feels about what he has been through,” Ramy shares. “Sometimes we should talk about solutions, but most often we should just listen.”
Through the training Ramy did not only acquire knowledge. More importantly he was encouraged to persevere. “I was thinking about what I had lost every day, but through the training I found new strength to face my future and hope to continue, instead of giving up.”
Another dance class is about to begin. Ramy has to say goodbye. After the training he is even more aware of the importance of the space for children that he is providing. Majoring in the minors is what the trauma awareness training taught him.
Ramy’s Message to the Worldwide Church
“The important thing is to not lose your faith in God. Trust in God, not in yourself. I would like you to imagine what it would be like to be forced to flee by a terrorist group, lose everything and run away to a safe area. Then to wake up the next day and realize you have nothing left. I hope this will never happen to you, but imagine what it was like for us. As Christians we are asked to love everyone and to help everyone. So this is what I expect from you: we need your prayer, your support and we need you to speak up for us. This will give us hope to continue and it will help us to stay strong in the faith.”
*Kyra’s name is changed for security reasons
Iraq is ranked #3 on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Katie Rouse at 678-410-9575.