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Life for Christians in Iraq

I have spent the last three years in Iraq, working with Christians in that war-torn country. Some of that time was spent with Father Aram, a priest in the Catholic Chaldean Church. He guided me round the Christian communities, particularly on the Nineveh plain about 30 miles north of Mosul. Aram introduced me to many beautiful Christians, including Yusuf, an orphaned boy, five years old.

Yusuf’s parents were killed when ISIS (the so-called Islamic State) invaded Iraq in June 2014 and captured his home, the Christian town of Batnaya. Yusuf was taken byneighbours to the relative safety of nearby Kurdistan, northern Iraq. In all the towns and cities captured by ISIS, Christians were given three options: convert to Islam; pay jizya, a “protection tax,” or be killed.

Although Batnaya was liberated from ISIS in 2016, only a few Christians have returned. It is nothing but a ghost town empty and derelict.  Father Aram drove me through the town. We saw buildings homes, shops, workplaces - reduced to rubble by ISIS fighters. There is no water, electricity and little food. There are still undetected IEDS (improvised explosive devices) amongst the debris.

The Iraqi Church is one of the oldest churches in the world dating from the first century, when it is believed the Apostles Thomas and Thaddeus brought Christianity to the fertile flood plains of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

I often worshipped with Iraqi Christians. It was fascinating to learn they use Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus. As such, the Iraqi Church has a direct, unbroken link with earliest Christianity. Yet it faces extinction. Throughout its history, the Iraqi Church has suffered fierce persecution. In recent times such persecution has been under Saddam Hussein and more recently under ISIS.

In 2003, at the end of the Second Gulf War, there were one and a half million Christians living in Iraq. Today there are only about 200,000. Many have been killed, others forced to emigrate. In Baghdad and elsewhere,

Christians are often named derogatively as ‘Nasrani’ (Arabic for "Christian") and 'mushrik’ ("polytheist"). These names are often written on the houses belonging to Christians, making them targets of abuse and discrimination.

Talking with Iraqi Christians who face great dangers simply for professing Jesus as Lord, I felt humbled and ashamed, that we in Britain, sadly, often take our freedoms for granted. Although they daily face adversity and fear, Iraqi Christians have great hope and steadfast love. I met with
Monsignor Bashir Warda, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan
He shared with me the needs of Iraqi Christians many of whom literally have nothing (materially anyway), only their faith. Yusuf, smiling and playful, is too young to understand what is happening in Iraq. But he and the Christian community he belongs to, face a frightening and uncertain future.
As Archbishop Warda stated to me: “Please tell Christians in Bradford we need your prayers and support. Please do not forget us”.

Dr Simon R V, Ebenezer 


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