The occupation of large parts of Iraq by so-called Islamic State (IS) has had a traumatising impact on many people, including Christians. In some places, this has been exacerbated by the stigma surrounding mental health. But thanks to initiatives run by Open Doors local partners, people are beginning to find healing – including Vian, who is now looking to help others.
Vian (centre right) is passionate about helping people heal from trauma
Al Kosh was never taken by IS but it was so close to the frontline that 35-year-old Vian’s bags were always packed to flee. Conflict was on her doorstep.
“When people used to tell me about God’s existence, I would be like: but what about the suffering, the torture, the displacement?” Vian recalls. “It is only through actively working through my trauma that I have been able to see the presence of God in all this.”
This was made more difficult given the stigma around mental health in Iraq. “As a society, we don’t accept the concept of trauma,” Vian continues. “We see people who are mentally ill as either crazy or lazy.”
The need is huge, but there is hope. Through Open Doors’ Hope for the Middle East campaign, three trauma care centres have been created, together with a two-year counselling course for Christians in professions that encounter traumatised people. Shorter trauma awareness courses are also available as well as conferences and retreats for local Christians.
“I can reflect the presence of God and help someone out of their sorrow,” shares Vian, who serves at the trauma centre in Al Kosh and is six months into the two-year counselling course. She is one of 30 people currently taking the course.
“I meet a lot of people who just need someone to listen to them, clear their minds. I want to take people outside of their box, let them look at their problem from another angle. I won’t give people the solutions, because there is no one who knows their life better than themselves, but I will help them to find that solution or answer they are looking for.”
For Vian, the course helps people find peace not just in themselves but with others. “One of the most important things that I learned in the school is co-existing,” she explains. “I was previously not able to be in the same room with certain people, but now I can. It is also one of the things we do in the centre – help people to co-exist again, with their family and with wider society.”
Vian’s passion for counselling is shared by Wisam, a monk from a monastery just outside the Christian city of Qaraqosh. He is one of the driving forces behind the trauma care initiatives run by an Open Doors local partner in Iraq. “If we don’t deal with the trauma in our community, the future of Christianity in Iraq is very dark,” he shares.
“What I saw working with the people during the displacement and afterwards alarmed me: people cannot get rid of the anger inside of them,” Wisam continues. “It’s triggering conflicts in families, sleeplessness, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, especially among youngsters.
"If we don’t deal with the trauma in our community, the future of Christianity in Iraq is very dark" Wisam
“After IS, people lost their trust – trust in each other, in the future, and even their trust in God. You have to imagine that some people lived next to their neighbours for 40 years, but when IS came the neighbours didn’t help them; even worse, they stole from their house after they’d fled. And if you cannot trust people that you see, how can you trust God, someone you don’t see?”
Wisam is helping people trust God again. And significant inroads have been made to break the stigma around mental health in Iraq and begin providing care for those in need, but there is a long way to go.
“This is only the beginning of the journey,” Wisam stresses. “Because of the projects many people are at least able to function in their daily lives. They are struggling but survive. But wounds as deep as we are facing here aren’t fixed with one training. Creating awareness and achieving healing takes time. It might take years, generations. We have no other way. We must become people of peace.”
With your continued prayers and support, Open Doors local partners will continue to walk beside the Christian community in Iraq, helping enable the local church to be a beacon of hope in the war-torn country.
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