Iraq: An update from Father Daniel

by Church Resource Team on November 10, 2016

In the summer of 2014, ISIL forces took the region of Nineveh, in northern Iraq. As they did, Christians in towns surrounding the provincial capital of Mosul, including those in the predominantly Christian city of Qaraqosh, fled by the thousands.  Many went to the city of Erbil, about 50 miles from Mosul and about 20 miles from Qaraqosh.

Among them, some 1,600 people found shelter in the courtyard of Mar Elia Church, lead by priest, Father Daniel Alkory. Hear his story. World Vision came alongside Father Daniel to support the community living on the Mar Elia church property.  World Vision is also serving other Christians, Yazidis, Sunni Muslims and others forced from their homes by the conflict.

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Today, the Iraqi military, supported by local militias and international forces, continue their efforts to retake Mosul.  Only last week, ISIL was pushed out of Qaraqosh.

World Vision’s Steve Haas recently spoke with Father Daniel to get an update on the work at Mar Elia and to hear how families from Qaraqosh were responding to the news. (The interview below has been edited for length and for clarity)
Q: Can you bring us an update on what’s happened to the church families that were there at your church, Mar Elias?

A: Thank you for the opportunity to be with you. As many may have seen in the video “Faith over Fear,” we had many displaced Christian people – I call them our relatives – living at the church for about two years. Recently, the church was able to rent some houses and pay the rent for these houses. And now our relatives are transferred into new houses and now they’re comfortable and they’re happy. Now, they’re living their normal lives in their new houses.

Q: Fantastic news! So, you don’t have anyone else from Qaraqosh who’s living on your church property anymore?

A: Yes. Now it becomes just like a free space and we’re thinking of planting new trees and something new. And all the families that lived in our church are coming to the church every evening. They’re linked to the church. They miss their place, so every day they come and remember stories that happened there.

Q: What are the people who had been living in your church courtyard thinking? What are they feeling about what’s happening now in Qaraqosh?

A: They feel so happy. Now, all the waiting and patience and broken hearts to see their homes have come to an end. Our relatives were always wondering about the day when they would go back. They just want to have the breeze of the air of their cities where they were born, raised and lived. More importantly, they want to see what happened to their houses and their churches, where they had been baptised and took their very first Holy Communion and prayed for days and nights for peace to prevail in their precious country. It’s been 813 days since they fled, about one hundred and sixteen 116 Sundays and about two years and 82 days.

Q: You know the number exactly.

A: Yes. We’re counting all the days.
Q: Are they in touch with their friends and family in Qaraqosh? Are they able to communicate with them?

A:  Some people are in direct contact. Some of their friends went directly to see Qaraqosh and other Christian cities. And we have heard so many things from the people who went already to these regions and we received also some photos. The photos showed big damage that happened to these places.

Q: You had a lot of children at Mar Elia, many of them remember, of course, what it’s like, it’s just two years ago that they fled. What are they telling you?

A: The children, they’re so eager to go back and see their rooms and toys and they’re interested to know what happened to their houses and schools, friends, churches and playgrounds where they used to go every evening to play. This bad experience proves to them that no matter what happens, Jesus is protecting them and that the church is their second house.

Q: What are your greatest needs right now for those who have been with you and now living in these individual homes, what are you hearing their needs are?

A: Their most important need is emotional and family support. We’re dealing with a generation of children that has been traumatised. We need to work with them, with educational programs, with the youth- empowering the youths, empowering the women. And the children, they need to be helped from the trauma they have seen. Many children have seen great violence. So, they need emotional support, psychological support and spiritual support.

Q: You’ve been actively providing this support for the people who have been on your property. What are some of the things that you’ve done that have been effective?

A: Well, we’re doing a program, called “Healing the Trauma” by using the Holy Bible. It’s so effective and it’s such a good program.  And not just for the refugees or our relatives; we have done it with the local people, with so many people that need this support. We’re trying different aspects, like using art to let children express their feelings. Art is a common way to help people – especially children – begin to heal from emotional and psychological hurt.

Q: What are your biggest concerns as this whole retaking of Mosul happens?

A: As Christians, we have so many concerns. Mostly, if the liberation will take a long time, we don’t want to see another two years of people living away from their homes.

We’re afraid that some people may take advantage of them and sell their property. We’re also worried about security in the Christian areas. We don’t want the same scenario to happen again that happened with Qaraqosh and other Christian cities. And other churches and schools and health centres should be reconstructed. These are the main concerns that we’re facing.

Q: You’ve been in partnership with World Vision as you served your “relatives” at Mar Elia Church. Now that they have moved into homes in the city, has your relationship with World Vision changed? What are you doing today?

A: We’ve developed that partnership into an educational program supporting the youth. World Vision came up with the program called “Empowering the youth.” This program does not include just Mar Elia centre, but it includes different churches, different beliefs, and now all of these churches are sending their youth to work together in this program. This is giving churches a chance to know about each other and also to share things.

Q: How are you praying presently about this?

A: We’re praying in our own churches, on social media, making spiritual trees and special praying events and asking God to protect the civilians that live outside of Mosul. We’re praying that our relatives would be able to return and rebuild their cities and ring the bells of the churches and live in peace with other religions.

Q: Would you lead us in prayer as we close?

A: In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. God, we ask you to provide for the needs for all the displaced people that are coming from Mosul. We’re asking you to protect them. We’re asking you to give the power and strength to all the believers to continue glorifying your name all the time. Amen.

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