Why We’re Rebuilding The Church In Iraq
The Moment We’ve Been Waiting For
In July this year, the Iraqi government declared victory over the Islamic State in Mosul. It didn’t mark the end of Islamic State, who are still active in Iraq and Syria, but it meant many Christians were able to start returning home–it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for since the rise of the Islamic State.
For us, the last few years have been about survival and providing emergency relief. But now it’s all about strengthening what remains, which is the heartbeat of Brother Andrew’s vision for this ministry. It’s time for Open Doors to help the persecuted church rebuild and thrive–something we’ve been doing globally for the past 60 years.
Christians return to church to celebrate Palm Sunday in Qaraqosh, Iraq, after two years under Islamic State control.
Christians Return Home
In the Christian town of Karamles, 30km east of Mosul, residents are starting to rebuild. Karamles was under Islamic State control for over two years until it was liberated in October 2016. Most of the 797 homes in Karamles have been completely burnt-out, and 97 have been reduced to rubble.
This is the town 12-year-old Noeh is from. He was displaced when Islamic State attacked and now all that remains of his family home is a burnt out shell of rubble and ash. The Islamic State had looted his family’s home, burnt and destroyed it. Noeh walked through the remains and found some of his belongings in the ash- his marbles, the family computer and his dad’s church book.
“I feel very sad about what happened.” Noeh said. “Still I am very eager to return to my village. This is our land… I’m not afraid to live here again because the Holy Spirit makes me strong.”
Noeh’s school isn't safe enough for the children to go back, but it’s set to reopen later this year. There are weeds growing between the concrete and the floor is littered with rubbish. Noeh walked around the playground and the soccer field, before heading to his classroom.
“I can’t go in any further,” he said. “Islamic State have been here and they might have hidden bombs.”
A Return Centre has been set up next to the church to accommodate people returning to their homes. So far, 250 families have said they would like to rebuild before the end of the year. Basic services, like electricity, are being established for people to start restoring their homes and rebuild their lives.
Father Thabet, a local church leader, visited his childhood home in Karamles, now in ruins.
No Future, Without The Church
“I think we should be optimistic about the future of the church.” Said an anonymous church leader. “With Islamic State, another pressure came upon us as Christians, but God uses this pressure. We are now reaching out to others and see new people coming into the church.
“Iraq without a church? That will not happen. When you look at history, there has been persecution of the church throughout the centuries. The church has always come through the difficulties. We know that God is in charge and is leading.”
When Open Doors work on the ground in Iraq, we choose to stay out of sight to ensure the local church can be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s not about the brand of ‘Open Doors’, it’s about ensuring the local church is strengthened. And in the midst of all of this, we are seeing a new church emerge. We are seeing many Muslims come to know Jesus, because of the work of the local church.
That is why we’re rebuilding the church in Iraq. And even though the danger is not over for Christians, persecution often paves the way for revival and many believers are wanting to stay to see a spiritual revival in this country.