Searching for Hope Among Fields of Ruin
By Claire Evans
02/16/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Recent heavy rains have muddied the churned and lumpy roads of Qaraqosh; streams of dark, brown water slide past homes blackened by fire and reduced to rubble. Before ISIS violently swept through the Nineveh Plains in 2014, Qaraqosh was the largest Christian city in Iraq. Today, it is unrecognizable, its destruction complete. The message ISIS has left behind across the Nineveh Plains? Abandon all hope, you who wish to return.
Lost hope was felt heavily throughout all of ISIS’s brutal occupation. In 2014, religious freedom activist Esho Esho, shared with International Christian Concern (ICC), “Not much can be done. Assyrians, who also are called Chaldean and Syriacs, lost trust in both the Iraq and the Kurdish government. They are losing hope as well.”
One Iraqi Christian woman put it this way: “We are a minority, and yet we have paid the biggest price of any group during these past years.”
Now that ISIS has been militarily defeated, some Christians are daring to hope again. The ideology of ISIS continues to persist, however, leading Christians to have many different perspectives on whether they should focus their hope on the growth or survival of Christianity in the country.
One Iraqi addresses the problem of extremism by directly engaging in missionary work in the country’s dangerous south. This area is wedged between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a breeding ground for an ideology of hatred toward Christians. Of course “immigration has affected the Christian population very much,” he said. “But population doesn’t mean the future of Christianity.”
His missionary work provides this group of Iraqis something new: religious options, a choice between the Gospel message and the message of extremism. His work has been quite fruitful, and for this reason he said, “From my perspective, now we are better than before… I feel myself, monitoring the situation and meeting individual converts every day, probably within the next five or 10 years, we may see a converts’ church.”
“This land has a Christian history,” added Anwar, who was displaced from Qaraqosh. “In the first century, Saint Thomas came here to Iraq as a disciple of Christ and preached the Gospel.”
It was through his missionary work that Christianity was able to grow in Iraq to what it was before ISIS. High estimates say that there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq before 2014. Today, there are less than 250,000. That Christianity has a rich history of growth in Iraq provides some hope for the future.
Most Iraqi Christians, however, take a different perspective. They find hope not in the future growth of the Church, but rather in the successful survival of the Church that remains behind. Anwar himself, while recognizing the importance of Church growth in Iraq’s history, leans towards this perspective. “The Christians of Iraq are like the rose in the orchard. Their departure means the loss of this rose and this beautiful component inside the homeland,” said Anwar.
For this reason, “the future of Christianity is something unknown,” said a Baghdad pastor. “All we can do is pray for the community to get better, most of our problems are related to ethics. I appreciate everyone (who) uses his mind to be creative and think on how to maintain Christians’ existence in Iraq.”
Some Christians, like Raja, have a mixed perspective. He remains in Iraq, waiting for someone to make some substantial change which will allow Iraqis to “live in peace with the rest of the religious and ethnic components of society.”
“I hope that Iraq will someday become a safe country, allowing the expatriates to return, allowing us to be reunited within the same homeland,” he added. The Church only needs to survive long enough for their return before it can start growing again.
Anwar, like so many other Christians, wishes to leave and expressed no immediate interest in ever returning. “There is no future inside Iraq,” he said.
Despite the many different perspectives on the future of Christianity in Iraq, Anwar expressed one sentiment that is felt among many. “It is difficult to leave your home and city. My house is burnt and the doors are broken, but I still have the key to my house with me.” For in the end, despite the complexity of the situation, Iraq’s Christians simply want home.
For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org