“St George’s embraced me after I came here from Mosul. I ask The Lord to bless the church every day and give me the strength to serve Him.”
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 there was a rise in violent Islamist extremism in Mosul. This culminated in 2008 with the kidnap and murder of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho. After several days missing, the Archbishop was found buried in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the city. The murder shocked the world. To date, Rahho is the highest ranking Christian cleric to be killed in Iraq. The details of his death are still disputed but many blame ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’, a forerunner of ISIS. Saad (pictured above) was in Mosul at this time. Along with thousands of other Christians, he fled the city. This was six years before ISIS first appeared.
Another of the refugees in our care, Marlene, has a connection to this terrible event. Her father worked for the Archbishop as a bodyguard. He was in the car with the Archbishop on the day he was kidnapped. According to eyewitnesses, men suddenly appeared and fired their machine guns into the car killing Marlene’s father and two others. Before bundling the Archbishop into the boot, the killers hung a sign around Marlene’s father’s neck saying “this Christian does not deserve to have a tomb”. Here is a short interview with Marlene in which she recounts her father’s senseless murder (viewer discretion is advised).
Salvation in Baghdad
During this time an estimated 13,000 Christians fled Mosul into the Nineveh Plain. Fearing for his life, Saad made his way south to Baghdad hoping that things would be better. Of his arrival in the capital Saad says: “Life in Baghdad was tough at first. It was hard to get around due to the large number of explosions. The roads were often closed. It was difficult to move from place to place.” Around about the time Saad turned up at St George’s, suicide bombers detonated their bombs on the street outside the church killing 150 and injuring 600. However, in the years that followed, the security situation in the city slowly improved.
Since fleeing Mosul, Saad has been strengthened by his Christian faith. He regularly attends the Sunday service at St George’s and speaks warmly of the church and the positive impact it continues to have on his life: “St George’s embraced me after I came here from Mosul. I ask The Lord to bless the church every day and give me the strength to serve Him. Thank you to my brothers and sisters in Christ who help fund the church. I pray for you every day. May God bless you, bless your works and bless your homes.” As many of you will know, we are the main supporter of St George’s (both the medical clinic and the ministry).
Forgiveness and hope
This week, Iraqi President Barham Salih issued a statement encouraging Christians to return to their homes in Iraq. We welcome Mr Salih’s words. However, many Iraqi Christians, including the 1,100 refugee families we are helping in Jordan, are still reluctant to return. They fear the resurgence of ISIS, Al Qaeda and their affiliates. Indeed, we reported here last week that ISIS continues to plague parts of northern Iraq. Many who could return are still traumatised by what they have seen. Even in areas which have been fully liberated, suspicion is rife. But where there is forgiveness, there is hope.
Forgiveness is not a policy prescription; it is a personal act of courage. Saad has forgiven those who persecuted him. He has found a new lease of life at St George’s in Baghdad. The church is truly an oasis of grace in a land riven by sectarianism. However, St George’s needs more support if it is to continue helping the displaced and the dispossessed. Despite providing food and medical assistance to the poorest, it receives no governmental funding. For those who are able, we hope that you can make a generous donation this Easter in support of St George’s and the people we are helping there.
How to make a donation
To support our work in Iraq and Jordan, please make a donation now via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Or you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. Thank you!