When Christina* was just three years old, she was snatched from the arms of her mother by Islamic State militants as her family fled Qaraqosh. But this year, after being cared for by a Muslim family in Mosul for three years, she was reunited with her family – the video below shows her shortly after her return home in June. One of our local partners was recently able to visit Christina and her family – she gave us this update.
I was able to visit the family together with a Christian nun. During the visit Christina looked fine. She hurried to hug the nun who she clearly loves and to whom she is very much attached. She kept holding her hand during the whole visit and never wanted to leave her side. Christina’s father, Khidher Abada, and mother, Ayda Hanna, obviously looked happier and more comfortable than when their daughter was away from them.
Ayda looked especially different in comparison to the past years. You can feel the joy and peace inside of her after being reunited with her child. To me she looks like a rose that was wilted and then flourishes again.
Khidher told me, “We would like to return to Qaraqosh. I would like to go as my brothers have already returned. But my house is damaged. I would love to reconstruct it, but it’s totally damaged with some other houses next to it.”
Speak up for Christians in Iraq and Syria - sign the Hope for the Middle East petition
Ayda says something similar: “Living in the Ankawa area of Erbil is not the same as being in our own village. Maybe Christina will even remember when we are able to return.”
What worried me was that Christina did not speak during our visit. She was sitting next to the nun the whole time, hugging her tight. Later they started to make a necklace together. The nun and I tried to speak with her, but Christina was just smiling and nodding her head.
But when I asked her parents, they smile. “She is very talkative, but when guests come she is quiet. She speaks Arabic well as she was with a Muslim family in Mosul, but the last months she started to understand some of our Syriac language. That is the language we speak at home.”
I ask Ayda how Christina is doing now. “She remembers her time in Mosul, but she doesn’t want to go back to the family.”
Then she says something that surprises me. “The man who Christina was with phoned us. He asked us to meet with him in order to talk about an issue. He said that he was attacked by the police in Mosul, accusing him of receiving money or making benefit from the story of Christina as she was at his house. The police attacked his house in Mosul and broke his TV.
“The man asked us to write a document for him stating that he did not benefit from the case. Having such a paper could help him when someone would accuse him. He said that he hopes no one will expose him or harass his family.”
The family went to Bartella to meet him. Christina’s mother told me, “When Christina saw him, she did not want to go to him.”
He told her ‘Come!’ and her parents encouraged her to say hi, but she told them, “Please, I want to go back with you. I don’t want to go with him!”
Ayda told me, “I am so happy that she is with us again. I thank God for that and that she does remember us.” Christina’s brother, Christmas, confirms this. “I am happy too. And, by the way, my parents are right. She never stops talking when we are alone.”
Ayda says, “The first days after her arrival home she was kind of in shock.” Khidher adds, “It took about two weeks to get her used to here.” What makes them both very happy? “She calls us mom and dad.”
Christina will be registered at a school run by nuns in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil. Looking back on all that happened, Ayda says, “I thank the Lord because Christina is back. But I also thank all who helped us in prayer and practically.”
The nun uses that opportunity so show her gratefulness too: “I thank your organisation for all the support they gave to the Christians in the past three years during the displacement. You have done a lot and are still doing a lot for our people here. So we really appreciate you.”
BRING HOPE TO THE MIDDLE EAST
Your support has helped our local partners to provide Christina’s family with food and hygiene kits, to help them survive, and your prayers for Christina’s safe return have been answered – thank you!
The challenges facing our church family in Middle East are still huge, and families like Christina’s continue to need support. There are four things you can do today:
- Pray. Pray for Christina and her family to continue to be restored after their traumatic separation. Pray for provision for displaced families like theirs. Pray for energy and wisdom for Open Doors partners working to support believers in Iraq.
- Give. Every £30 could help provide trauma care to a child who has been attacked for being from a Christian family.
- Speak out. Sign the Hope for the Middle East petition, calling for equality, dignity and responsibility for Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria. Ask others to sign it too.
- Tell your church. Order a free Rebuild Hope pack, full of ideas and resources to help everyone in your church, of whatever age, to connect with their church family in the Middle East.
*We have referred to Christina as 'Christine' in previous updates.