“The first time I saw the house I had to cry. We all had to cry.”
That’s what Louy’s mother-in-law Batul remembers about coming home to Bartella. Louy and his extended family all had to flee to Erbil when so-called Islamic State (IS) took over much of Iraq’s Nineveh Plain in 2014. Thousands of Christian families had to do the same. Louy and his wife Huda went with their son Sharbel and respective parents, leaving behind their home and most of their possessions.
At first, they stayed in a tent at a church compound in Erbil. Later, they could rent somewhere to live, but it wasn’t home. “In the beginning we expected we only needed to stay for two, three days, but when the days passed by, we knew that it would be longer,” says Louy. “But we always believed that one day we would return. We prayed a lot for that.”
Sustained by food packages
During their time living in Erbil, they’d received food packages through Open Doors partners. “We wouldn’t have managed without your help,” Louy remembers. “You took care that we didn’t lack anything.” Thank you so much for giving and praying for displaced families like Louy’s. It kept them alive and hopeful when things were at their most desperate. But, of course, they wanted to come home when it was safe to do so.
When they did, their house was almost unrecognisable. IS had even painted their slogans on the walls. But though the state of the house in Bartella might have made them cry, they were still able to see the silver lining: “We were lucky,” says Louy. “Our house was looted, it was a big mess, doors were stolen, windows broken – but they didn’t burn the house and it wasn’t bombed.”
That’s a pretty low bar to hit, and it tells you something about Louy’s character. He is filled with faith and he loves God. He recognises God’s grace in the toughest of situations. “In our life, we hand everything over to God. We ask for His help; we depend on Him. Even our difficult days, when we were displaced, come from God. God uses them for good. Every moment of the past few years, I felt God protecting us.”
Thousands of houses restored
Thankfully, their home is no longer broken and incomplete. Thanks to your support, it has been fully renovated! Open Doors partners have so far been able to restore 1274 houses for Christian families across the Nineveh Plain, including 300 in Bartella. Thousands of Christians have been able to come home from the exile caused by IS.
“I thank everyone who has contributed to our return home. We always say that, without support from the church and organisations, we would not have been able to return,” says Louy. Like any of us, he is closely attached to his home, and it was deeply painful to have to leave. “I have been here in Bartella since I was born. Whenever we go from our land, we are like strangers.”
Sharbel agrees. He was very young when they fled Bartella, but remembers its liberation with joy: “We were very happy. We love our village very much. We were so thankful for that day.”
Now that they are home, they can be the light of Christ in Bartella as it begins to recover from the traumas it has experienced. The town has a mix of Christians and Muslims. As 12-year-old Sharbel says, “We have more Muslims in the class, but we’re all children of the same age. We stand united, we should hold hands together.”
(l-r) Huda, Louy and Sharbel
“Iraq without Christians? Impossible”
Louy is at the heart of community, as a teacher at the local primary school. He recognises the privilege and responsibility of the position. “When I teach these children, the most important thing for me to teach them is about peace. Even if they learn and study hard, if they don’t know the meaning of peace and love, they get no benefit from their education.”
“As Christians, we are seen as ‘sons of peace’. Christians are known as people who love each other and who are giving people.
“It would be terrible to see the region without Christians. Iraq without Christians? That would be impossible. That means that you won’t feel love anymore.”
There are still security issues, and Bartella needs to rebuild and be restored. But by enabling Louy and his family to come home, your support hasn’t just made a difference in their lives. It means that a whole generation of schoolchildren will benefit from seeing Louy’s love for Jesus. It means that the family can bring the light of Christ to their neighbourhood. Each Christian family you help return can have a ripple effect in their community. Renovating a house is a material project that makes a spiritual difference.
- Thank God for bringing Louy and his family safely home
- That Louy will be able to teach his class about Jesus’ love and the peace of God
- That Open Doors partners’ work will restore hope across the Middle East.