“Returning home.” “Set foot on our soil again.” “To see the church again that we built ourselves.” “A new beginning.” “Keep going.” “We cannot live our entire lives as displaced persons.” “I do not want to leave my country.” “God is with us.”
These are a few of the thoughts going through the heads of the refugees and displaced persons who are currently living in Erbil but who originally came from the Nineveh plains in Iraq. They see their return to their native towns after the invasion of the terrorist organisation ISIS coming ever closer. Even though the vast majority of the houses were destroyed or burned down, what is most important to them is that these are their own houses. The international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is helping to rebuild many of the houses belonging to Christian families. Even though they would have had the opportunity, these families do not want to emigrate to other countries. They insist upon staying in Iraq. Tawfeek Saqat from Qaraqosh is one such example. He worked as a farmer before he was forced to flee. He also ran a small hotel. “I was born in this country. I have spent my entire life here. I do not want to leave. My faith in Jesus gives me the strength to continue living here. Everything that I love is in Qaraqosh: my land, my business, my entire life. I am not going to emigrate so that I can live as an employee in Europe or some other place.” In a video of testimonies produced by Aid to the Church in Need, Tawfeek talks about how he and his family were persecuted for many years. The most harrowing time was, however, when he and his four children were kidnapped by terrorists.
The young student Rahma Jacon also experienced the apprehension and fear for herself. She remembers what a wonderful and peaceful life they led a few years ago. “I often have to cry when I think about how we lived. I would like to return to the Nineveh plains because that is our homeland, our houses, our church,” she said. She explained that they never thought that their stay in Erbil as displaced persons would last as long as it did. “Our faith gives us the strength to keep going. When times are difficult, I pray so that I am with God.”
Father Thabet Yousif lived in Karemlash, a Christian village that was completely destroyed after the terrorists came through. “We now have three kinds of houses: damaged, burned and completely destroyed houses,” he explained in the video reportage of Aid to the Church in Need. A lot of money is needed to rebuild, but the families have used up their entire savings to live all those years in Kurdistan or other places. “It is our homeland, these are our houses. We cannot keep on living as displaced persons or refugees forever. We want to go back to our village. Our identity is here in the Nineveh plains.”
The mother and grandmother Rahel Ishaq Barber pats herself on the shoulder as she recalls how they built 11 churches and chapels in Qaraqosh themselves. “I was still a child. We sang as we carried the stones for the churches on our shoulders. Our history is there.” Rahel is currently sharing a room in Erbil with eight other people. “It has not been easy. God has helped us a great deal. We thank Him.”