Hope in the darkest places 


tahira-church-in-qarqaosh

During the Anglican Centre's recent course with St George's College, Jerusalem we met Christians from around the Middle East and explored the reality of life today for believers in the Risen Lord. While the Patriarchs and Bishops of the various churches gave us hugely valuable insights into their churches and how they fit into the broader picture of the Middle East, it was in Jordan that we came face to face with the terrible reality of life as a Christian in the Middle East today.

This has been one of the most difficult blogs to write-up and I confess that I have avoided doing so, but today has been called Red Wednesday and is a day when people across the world are standing up for religious freedom and remembering those who have been killed for their faith and I would like to share these stories with you now. They were recorded as they were being said and have been left unvarnished.

Before you start reading the stories, I encourage you to watch these Christians of the lands of the bible say the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic, the language of Our Lord.
 

Aklas' story.

Aklas has asked us not to use her photograph but to tell her story. She was wearing a brown top with a brown jacket and her face was written in grief.

 

In 2005 she was living near Mosul and was forced to leave for Syria, which was much safer for Christians, and she settled in Aleppo. In 2013 "terrorists came and blew up my house", forcing her to return to Iraq.

She couldn't go back to her home but went to a village near Mosul. In 2014 Daesh came to her house and so she and her family fled to the Plains of Ninevah. After 45 days in the field, the government assured them it was safe to return to their houses - that they considered them their brothers & sisters - so they went back. 

Aklas had one son in the US while her other sons and daughter were with her. One day her sons were at work in the fields and she was at home with her daughter. As she was being treated for kidney failure, her daughter told her to go to the doctor and she would stay at home to prepare dinner. 

While she was at the doctor, Daesh came. They burned Rita, her daughter, alive inside the house. She was 24. 

Her neighbour who knew where she was called her and told her to try to call her husband and sons to warn them not to go home because Daesh was inside the building. 

They fled. They went to Kurdistan - to Irbil. 

She desperately wanted the body of her daughter to bury but nobody could reach the house, which was still being occupied by Daesh.

When they finally left, her neighbours came in and took Rita to the hopital. Aklas knew would not be able to go back to bury her but she asked the neighbours to take photographs of her - despite being fully burned - which she keeps next to her breast at all times. 

She then showed us the photographs. They were almost unbearable to look at but I forced myself to. Rita's face was in agony. The muscles of most of her body were exposed because the skin had burnt off.

Aklas ended her story by saying, 

We thank Jesus at all times and in all conditions. He is a great God and will save us in the end. 


Mahar's story

MaharMahar is a young man with a young family. His story is very different from Aklas' but gives another aspect of the unfolding horror that is the ethnic cleansing of Christians from the Middle East.


Mahar is from Qaraqosh in Iraq, which is near Mosul. He had a shop selling electronics, iPhones, etc. When Mosul fell into the hands of terrorists, they went to Kurdistan, to the Irbil area. But after a week because not much had happened in Mosul, they went back and reopened their shops. 
 
On 6 August 2014, the priest in his church told him "do not leave your homes, we made an agreement with Kurdistan people that no-one would attack them." 
 
At 1:30am Isis came and attacked their neighbourhood. They took their families and fled away. They went to Kurdistan - who were supposed to protect them, but who left them without any protection. "We were left in the hands of God." They stayed in Kurdistan almost a year. They had left Mosul with almost nothing - only what they could fit in a car. They sold the car and went to Turkey, to Izmir.
 
They decided to try to escape to Europe by sea. They went through black marketeers. They were put in a small rubber boat. The boat started sinking. They called for the Turkish navy, who rescued them. This was the first of five attempts.
 
On the fifth attempt they were smuggled on a big boat. 
 
With him were his wife, three children, his father and mother. He has a boy of 2, a girl of 5 and another boy of 6. When they approached the water level they saw the boat was very small for the number travelling. He asked "this is small, why are there no life jackets?" He wanted to stop the journey but was told they would be killed if they did not go with the smugglers. They decided to go. 
 
After an hour sailing, the boat started sinking. Water started flooding into the boat. Then they called the smuggler to tell him of the problems but the smuggler ignored them. The problems get worse - more and more water was coming in. They had no life jackets. They had only two suitcases - the sailors said these must be thrown into the sea. 
 
His father is a deacon in the church. God gave him light and wisdom and opened his heart. His father had hidden life jackets in the suitcase which they put on before the suitcases were thrown overboard. The situation became worse and worse. And then they start begging the smuggler to take them to a safe space "we cannot continue for another three hours". The sailor contacted the smugglers and was told no. He refused to turn back. 
 
They called the Turkish police who arrived with a bigger boat. The sailor asks them to come up to the top of the boat. He carries his babies and his childten to the top of the boat. He commended his life and his family's life to God. His other children remained with his mother and his wife. His mother became sick. His children will never forget that night. The Turkish police arrived. First thing, he hands his baby over then the other children then his mother, who was almost fainting.

They all survived, but his children became sick and and have had lots of problems.

After this he decided he should not be the only one to make this decision. He asked his children, do you want to go to Germany or back to Iraq. They said, "if we go by boat, I do not want to go to Germany". One of his children has a problem with buses - whenever he sees a bus he has a problem - because when the Turkish police would rescue them, they would put them on buses for four or five hours.

Since arriving in Jordan, Caritas has given them treatment and all the help they need. The sister in charge here asked his 6 yr old son to draw something from his life. He drew the sea, the boat, he drew five people in his family. This is still in his memory - he is six years old and he still remembers it. His other son remembers that the sea was rough and the boat going up and down. 
 
Their hope is to the better. To fond somewhere to settle. But they are not going to go back home. There is nothing left for them in their homelands. It is completely destroyed. Isis burned their properties. He showed us a video, taken by neighbours, of his utterly ruined house. 
 
His father and mother are now in Germany. They succeeded on the 10th request for asylum.

 

Saed Basel's story

SaedSaed is an old, well spoken man.

The stories are too many. But in the end they are the same story. He teaches Chemistry and his wife teaches laguages. They are from Basra, part of the Christian minority in Iraq, 

His problems started in 2006. People became more extreme - people started wearing big beards. Being clean shaven and his wife not wearing the veil, they looked different. He was one of very very few Christians in that school. The Muslims looked at him as impure, as not a person of faith. As he was a minority in a huge Shiite neighbourhood, people always told him, "You do not belong in this land, you are not a part of us, you do not belong in this land." Always he was quiet and went along with this. They were teaching their children, "they are not clean, they are drinking, they eat pork" and then they targetted his wife - pushing her, forcing her to wear the veil so that she looked like their women. 

The fear started increasing in their hearts. They started locking themselves in their houses and never went out after 8 at night. 

The fear got worse and worse. Then they decided to leave everything and get on with their lives. 

He has only one daughter. She is 12. They were always pushing her and pushing her to convert to Islam. He was always afraid they would rape her. 

A couple of times Shia terrorists came into his house, with guns, they took all his gold and all his money.

Bottom line they told him: you have no life here.

"The shia terrorists are worse than Daesh"

Their neighbours turned against them.  Three days ago they were told that one of their relatives was killed for being a Christian.  

"Islam wants to drive us out"

 

A young girl's story

She is a bright eyed young lady, who spoke English well, but who asked not to be named.

I am from Qaraqosh in Iraq. 

Even before we left there was a major campaign of blowing up buses to try to drive out Christians - especially by attacking school and university buses. Her brother was on one of these buses - he lost the sight of his left eye and lost his left ear. 

We fled twice. The first time it was said Daesh was coming but Daesh didn't come.  We heard what happened in Mosul. Daesh came and took their ID, their gold, their money. We were particularly afraid as girls. Daesh takes the girls to rape.

We ran away to Kurdistan again - to Ankawa. Churches gave them places, tents, medical care, food. 

And then when news reported that Daesh did not take Qaraqosh so we went back. 

And then Daesh returned. 6 August 2014. All of our family left. We went to Ankawa. We keft everything - left with nothing but our souls. 

Our families thought that it would be like the first time and that we could go home. We slept in tents, caravans - some people slept on the streets. 

This situation lasted for two years - after a year and a half I left. The Iraqi government promised us "come back, we will liberate your areas". No one has ever helped us and no one has ever kept their promises - only priests have helped us and some minor relief agencies from otside the area.

We have universty certificates but there is no work in Kurdistan. They refuse to employ us as nobody could learn the language of Kurdistan. We had no choice but to come to Jordan and hope for a new life.

She has just received political asylum in Australia, but there is a problem: her parents came to Jordan at a different time which makes a difference for a resettlement visa. Australia won't take them together. They want them to write a story - the trouble is, if you don't have a harsh story you may not be accepted.

David Moxon, 23/11/2016
 
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Tuesday Eucharists will be at Caravita at 12:30 each week, apart from August.