Today I met with Marlene, her husband Jinan, and their two children Mariam (9) and Miran (5). This family graciously shared their story with me and it is one that I will never forget. Marlene is originally from Qaramless, a small town near Mosul. She lived there with her immediate and extended family until her father was brutally killed by al-Qaeda in 2007.
Her father worked at the local church alongside the priest – her father and the priest were killed together (Marlene witnessed this). The man responsible threatened everyone in the community and told them they were not allowed to bury her father, that he would personally kill anyone who tried. Thankfully, Marlene’s brother, who was 17 at the time, was able to sneak into the church and recover the body and the family was able to give him a Christian burial.
After the murder of their father, Marlene and her family received several death threats and so they fled to Qaraqosh, a Christian town near Mosul. However, a few weeks later Marlene’s mother passed away. Marlene is the eldest of 7 children and as such she inherited the responsibility of caring for her young siblings. Money was extremely tight and the family were forced into putting two of the younger brothers into an orphanage as they could not support them.
In 2008, Marlene brought her family to Jambour where her husband’s family is from. They lived there with her husband’s 4 handicapped sisters. They struggled to support the increasing number of family members dependent on them. The local church provided them with a tiny windowless house that was not really habitable – they were told they could live there if they could repair it. As Christians, it was difficult to find work and they struggled constantly to make ends meet.
When Daesh came things got worse. More and more young Sunni men in the town were recruited to join Daesh and the Christian families were increasingly threatened, scared and vulnerable. The family tried to flee to Erbil seven times, often sleeping rough, terrified of what was happening back in Jambour. Each time they were refused entry until finally in 2014 the Kurdish police allowed them and 50 other Christian families to go to the city of Dohuk.
In Dohuk living conditions were not much better. Marlene lived with her family in a tiny house with 23 other people and was helped once more by a local church. Eventually, they were kicked out of the house and she set up a tent for her family outside. She struggled to find a way to send her children to school. During this time her uncle was kidnapped by Daesh and to this day they still do not know his fate.
Things changed for the better in 2015 when they came to Jordan. They moved to Madaba (a town to the south of Amman) where they found support and hope from the Christian community there, as well as support from us. We provide the family with money for rent. Marlene is extremely grateful. They live in a tiny flat but their faith is ever present. Posters of Jesus are taped to the wall and this time there is at least one window to let some light in.