IRAQ: ‘THEY ARE WILLING TO STAY – THEY JUST NEED HOPE’

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In a simply furnished portacabin in a refugee camp in Iraq, Thabet is doing the sums.

The church leader assesses the current situation. “One third of the Christians from my village have left the country – that’s a lot.” He pauses a moment, thoughtfully. Then his eyes start to twinkle. “On a positive note, that means two-thirds are still here, that’s the majority.

“Many of them are willing to stay in Iraq; they just need enough hope. That’s where I come in. My job is to inspire and mobilise people, to help them rebuild their trust in their neighbours and their position in society.”

‘EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE NOTHING, YOU CAN STILL HELP OTHERS’

Thabet is just one of the many church leaders working among the displaced Christian community in Iraqi Kurdistan. His ‘parish’ is the ‘Karamles camp’ – a temporary housing project in Erbil home to hundreds of families from the Christian village of Karamles, who fled their village when the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) overran it in 2014. Every day he walks around the camp talking to people.

And even though they are living in camps, even though they might have lost all their possessions, Thabet is still urging these displaced Christians to do whatever they can to help one another. On the corner of his desk in the portacabin is a simple cardboard box with ‘Coin of the widow’ written on it in three languages. The title refers to the New Testament story about the widow’s offering (Mark 12:42-43).

“I ask my people to put something in this box. Even if it is just a small coin, whatever they can spare to help people who even poorer than they. Even when you have almost nothing to spend, still you can help others. That is how we keep the hope alive; that is how we spread the hope.”

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KEEPING HOPE ALIVE

In recent days, the village of Karamles has been liberated from IS. Thabet was among a group of people who visited the town briefly, and once again raised a cross on the hill overlooking their home.

Now he looks forward to the day that he and his people will be able return to their houses and is determined to keep the hope alive until that day. When asked about his dream, his goal in all of this, he starts smiling: “One day all of us will return to Karamles,” he says. “The first thing we will do is to gather all Christians and have a church service. We will worship outside on Barbara Hill next to our village; we will have communion in the open air. Everybody will see that this is the church, this is the Body of Christ, and this is Christian land. That is my dream: to give a testimony to the world.”

‘I JUST SIGNED – PLEASE JOIN ME’

Thabet believes that Christians only have a future in Iraq if the international community will also take its responsibility for them.

“We will need international support and protection. That is the only way our future as Christians in this country can be guaranteed.”

That is why he is supporting the Hope for the Middle East campaign, the seven year campaign Open Doors has launched to support the rights of Christians and other minorities to play a role in the future of the region.

Thabet joined with others around the world and went online to sign the One Million Voices petition, calling upon the UN to ensure equal citizenship and dignified living conditions for Christians in the Middle East and support for the role of Christians in reconciliation and rebuilding society.

“I just signed this petition myself,” he says. “Please join me.”

Source: Open Doors