Christians in Iraq are preparing for their first Christmas since the liberation of many of their villages in the Nineveh Plains. But this doesn't mean they can celebrate Christmas back home as they used to; many of their houses have been totally destroyed.
Khalida, a woman in her forties, had to flee Qaraqosh to escape the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). She has lived in Erbil for two years, first in a tent, later in a porta-cabin, and now in a house rented by the church.
Two Christmases have passed since she fled Qaraqosh. The Christmases were particularly painful, she says, but together they tried to make the best of it. "The church leaders here tried to make us forget the pain during Christmas just a little bit by organising Christmas parties and arranging gifts for the children. And of course there were Christmas services." Your support and prayers are enabling Open Doors local partners to hold similar Christmas parties again this year.
When the news came that Qaraqosh had been liberated, Khalida celebrated it in church together with the other Christians. "But my joy only lasted one day," she says, her voice breaking and tears welling in her eyes. "Then I found out that my house had been burned completely, just like the houses of the rest of my family. I wanted to return to my city. But now I ask myself: where will I return to? I have no house anymore."
Khalida and her family will spend this Christmas in displacement again. "It will be simple," Khalida says. "We will make the children feel the spirit of Christmas and go to church. We don't have much, but we do have the most important thing, and that is Christ. We will celebrate with him alone."
Next year at Christmas Khalida hopes to be back in Qaraqosh again. But she needs our help. "I heard of so many churches that are raising their voice for us. That gives me hope. If I can ask something of the churches worldwide it would be that they help us rebuild our area and help us live in peace there."
Preparing to return
Open Doors partners on the ground in Iraq are monitoring the situation and planning how they will support displaced people to return if and when it is safe for them to do so. At the moment, our partners think it is unlikely that families will be able to begin the return to places like Qaraqosh until the summer of 2017. Many areas are so badly damaged that much basic building work needs to be done. There are also areas which have been deliberately made unsafe to prevent Christians from returning home.
A dedicated 'rebuilding and returning fund' has been created within Open Doors to support Christian families with the required finances to repair their houses, to reinstate the water, sewage and electricity infrastructure for their villages, and to restore schools and church buildings damaged by IS.
One of the first rebuilding and returning activities that will be supported by this fund is a Centre for Support and Encouragement in Karamles, a recently liberated Christian village. This church-run centre is to be opened in the last weeks of December. The aim of the centre is to support Christians as they rebuild their houses by offering them care, food, and places to sleep. "These centres will be the bases where Christians will find the courage and the enthusiasm to rebuild Karamles and the church," local church leader Thabet said.
Bring hope to the Middle East
Open Doors has launched a global, seven-year campaign mobilise Christians around the world to bring hope to the Middle East. Here are three ways you can take part:
- For comfort and joy for displaced families in Iraq as they celebrate Christmas
- For wisdom for Open Doors partners and others who are making plans to help families from the Nineveh plains return home
- That God will bless the work of the Centre for Support and Encouragement in Karamles.