Iraq Appeal Update - December 2017
The people who walked in darkness have seen a Great Light…
This update is provided by Rev. Haitham Jazrawi, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk, Iraq. It is a powerful reminder of how our faith can sustain us in the midst of unimaginable loss and brokenness.
-Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development
Since late summer 2017, the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Kurdistani Peshmerga Forces, aided by the U.S. Air Force, have been able to regain control of the Nineveh Valley and much of its surrounding towns. The capital of Nineveh Province, Mosul, was finally “liberated” from ISIS in late July. I use the term “liberated” very loosely in this sense because, in reality, Mosul hasn’t been so much liberated, as it has been obliterated. Western Mosul, also known as the “Old City,” is practically rubble; it’s easier to count the buildings that remain standing than the ones that have been destroyed.
Stories of families running as bullets rained left and right became the norm. Sometimes children laid in the rubble and used the bodies of their dead parents to shield themselves until the armed forces were able to pull them out of harm’s way. I still remember the sight of a mere five or six-year-old little girl; her face made the rounds on Iraqi television stations. She had clung onto her dead mother’s body in the street for three days in the hope that mom would wake up and save her. These are but a few of the sights that are burned into our memories from this past horrific summer.
In addition to Mosul, several small Christian towns surrounding the Nineveh Valley were also freed during the summer of 2017. These are the very same towns where (most) of our Internally Displaced friends hail from. These towns include Qaraqoush, Bartellah, Karamlees, Basheqa, Baznatee and others. Some of these towns were hurt more than others. As ISIS began to retreat, they took to burning the homes which they had been occupying since June 2014. Iraqi homes are built entirely of cement. As such, the buildings themselves don’t burn, but the insides of the homes were all blackened by fire. My wife, Mayada, and I visited these towns shortly after liberation, and what we saw left us in tears. We saw homes with their ceilings missing, we saw homes black with ash, we smelled burning plastic, burning paint, and burning wood. The homes could hardly be labeled as “homes” anymore – they were structures, structures that made you doubt whether they had harbored any life, any family, any smiles at some point in the past.
Since the summer, only about half of the families staying with us have returned to their homes; all other families remain living at our church compound in Kirkuk. They either cannot afford to rebuild their homes, or are too scared to return – they’ve lost faith in the government’s promise to protect and shield them from future harm. And they cannot be blamed in the least bit.
As a church, we remain committed to serving them and hosting them without any contingent conditions. I have repeatedly assured them that they are welcome to remain with us until (and if) they decide to return home. Since the beginning of fall, many of the remaining families have decided to delay their return for at least one more year until their children complete the school year without interruption. As of now, the cost for hosting a family of four, without factoring in housing, water, and electricity, is approximately $300/month. This figure includes food, basic personal hygiene supplies, school supplies, and medication. The Presbyterian Church of Kirkuk continues to cover all of these costs, along with one-off expenses, all thanks to the continued love and support of our American friends and family-in-Christ. Within the church compound itself, we are still hosting six families for a grand total of 33 persons. Approximately 30 persons have departed the church since the start of 2017 – some have returned to their villages, others have immigrated and a few have decided to settle in Kirkuk or Erbil full-time and are now independent, financially.
The family of Nashwan and Zena has decided to stay with us for the foreseeable future. Nashwan was living with his parents in downtown Mosul prior to the invasion of ISIS in 2014. Before ISIS invaded Mosul entirely, several ISIS-sympathizers entered his brother’s home-furnishings store and killed him. As a result. Nashwan and his remaining siblings, along with their mother, decided to migrate to one of Qaraquosh’s small towns called Karamlees, which is entirely Christian. There, all of them lived together in one small home. Not long after, however, ISIS invaded their new hometown and so for a second time, they were all displaced. This time they decided to immigrate to Kirkuk. They have all lived with us since then. Their two displacements, along with the death of Nashwan’s brother, have left them all very wary. Their hometown of Karlamlees is now liberated, as is Mosul, technically, but they’re still uneasy about moving back home. This family has experienced a great deal of grief and loss, so it’s understandable that they remain hesitant. We have reminded them, time and again, that they will always have a home with us no matter what. We are not, nor will we ever, ask them to leave us – the decision is theirs to make and theirs only.
Nashwan and Zena have two small children, a boy and a girl. These kids have been raised with us since 2014, and many of their memories are from Kirkuk. Their safety and sense of stability and normalcy remains of the utmost importance to their parents, as it should be.
Nashwan and Zena’s faith is beautifully simple and indescribably deep. The pain they’ve witnessed is unimaginable, and yet their tongues never cease to praise Christ. Whereas anyone else would have likely fallen prey to anger, resentment, and loss of hope, this family continues to glorify him whose mercies are renewed every day. Their faith is a living testament to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.
I almost hesitate to say this without qualifying it first, but I will nonetheless: Having spent the past three and a half years with these families, I have come to taste of what the Apostle John writes in Revelation 21 when he writes that, “He [Christ] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." We aren’t there yet – not at all – but I firmly believe that as we walk with the Lord through this life, he is preparing us for that ultimate reality, day by day. We’re still crying, we’re still losing loved ones, and we’re still in pain and yet, as our walk with Christ continues, so grows our joy, so deepens our faith and we begin to grasp more firmly the promises of Christ.
Pastor Haitham Jazrawi
Gifts marked for the Iraq Appeal, which supports the mission and ministry of the three Presbyterian churches in Iraq along with relief efforts for Iraqis displaced by war, may be sent to our office at the address below or you may make a gift HERE.