CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief
ERBIL, Kurdistan — When ISIS conquered large swaths of northern Iraq more than a year ago, they gave Christians four choices: leave, stay and pay the Islamic tax for non-Muslims (jizya), convert to Islam or die. Most left.
Many of the Christians who fled ISIS are not in the larger refugee camps. Instead, they live in neighborhoods throughout Kurdistan and in Erbil.
After one of the church services, CBN News spoke with some refugees from Mosul — ancient Ninevah — and from the Christian town of Quaracosh. Many had similar stories about ISIS.
“At the end of the city, ISIS had a checkpoint,” Laith Ganem told CBN News. “They put a gun to my head and said, ‘Whatever you have in your pockets, take it out.'”
“One of our neighbors told us, ‘They killed your cousin because he was a Christian.’ They told us we had to leave,” Wisam Jubrael said.
The transition from normal life to refugee status has been hard.
“In such kind of circumstances, it’s really hard for families to live all together,” Sabah Jamil said. “For example, we came here and found out we would be living in a small apartment with five or six families. It was very difficult for us.”
A year ago just after they fled, CBN News interviewed the pastor of one church. Today, he is continuing to shepherd his flock.
“First, when we came here for about eight months, I was asking all the charity organizations, humanitarian organizations to go and visit the people, and the only reason behind it was giving out the Word of God to the people. So, God showed me His Word is not only words, but actions,” Pastor Abu Fadi said.
Even when the electricity goes out — a common occurrence in Erbil — the service goes on. Like Christians around the world, they gratefully celebrate communion.
Like many others, asked for prayer.
“God has moved us and saved us from Quaracosh to here. That means He was faithful to us, but right now we need a faithful heart so please pray for us to have a faithful heart,” Mora said.
“I’m really very proud of the Christians because the Christians, they left everything behind and they followed Christ,” Ganem added.
“The Christians of Iraq, they need the other parts of the world to pray for them because they are really in need spiritually, physically and emotionally,” another said. “They really need to pray for us to live in peace and experience the peace of Jesus.”
Miryam, the 10-year-old girl seen by thousands on the Internet forgiving ISIS, came to the service, still sharing her childlike faith. (LINK)
“Whatever situation we are in, it is because God allowed it,” Miryam said. “We don’t know how to deal with this life unless we have Jesus with us.”