The Nineveh Plains region to the Northeast of the Iraqi city of Mosul has become known as an epicenter of the devastation caused by ISIS militants. The Christian population has been massacred, and most of their ancient Churches utterly destroyed. The city of Nineveh is jam-packed with Biblical history – something that enraged the murderous jihadis.
In 2016, ISIS destroyed the historic “Mashqi Gate,” also known as the “Gate of God.” Referenced several times in the Biblical texts, Nineveh dates to the 7th century BC and was once the largest city in the world. ISIS sought to butcher not only Christian artifacts, but also the local Christian population altogether. Now that ISIS have been driven out of Iraq by the various forces, including the majority-Christian “Nineveh Plain Protection Units,” the rebuilding can finally begin – but it doesn’t come cheap. In early 2017, Aid to the Church in Need assessed the cost of reconstruction at over $200 million, as reported by Forbes.
That is where Christian persecution charity Open Doors comes in – they have been engaging in the drawn-out task of rebuilding the rich Christian heritage boasted by this ancient region and re-housing those believers who have been displaced by ISIS. “For more than two years, occupying Islamic jihadists tried to erase any evidence of Christianity from the city–burning churches, destroying crosses, toppling bell towers,” Lindy Lowry wrote in an update on the Open Doors website.
Now, Open Doors is using donations to rebuild the ruined homes of Christians who came under the brutal oppression of Islamic militants. Father George leads what is called the “Church Supreme Board for Reconstruction of Baghdeda,” which holds a sole aim of restoring the homes of the battered and broken Christian community.
“It’s going well,” Father George told Open Doors. “We’re now ready for the last part you have financed.” He continued: “With your support, we were able to restore 286 houses in Qaraqosh. That means 286 families have returned to their homes. By the end of 2017, we finished 1,054 of the 2,658 of houses that are on our list to be repaired.”
“We first drew maps of the town, then we used satellite images, and an architect made the plan of our town,” George said of his plan to rebuild the homes of the faithful. “We divided the town into 10 districts, each starting with a letter followed by a number. After that, a team of experts visited the houses to assess the damage and make a strong estimate of the money needed to restore the house.”
The team sought to help rebuild the houses that were in close proximity to the church – the central heartbeat of the town.
“We chose to restore houses close to the church in the center. The main thought is that we need to recreate the sense of community. We start here because there are services and shops nearby,” George added.
Following just a few months of work, thousands of residents have now returned to the town because their houses could easily be repaired. “The people are happy,” George said. “…They prefer to be here, to be back home.”
“We also saw refugees returning from France, Jordan, Lebanon and even Australia. I will personally work to convince more of those who left the country to come back.”
This priest has big vision for this once devastated region. “Qaraqosh needs to become beautiful again,” he said. “We need to remove all destroyed and burned houses that might remain empty. The people who live here shouldn’t be constantly confronted with these memories of the Islamic State. We also need to think of the farmers who lost their farms, their materials. We need to get them started. Also, the public activities should start, and some still need space for that.”
Khalisa and her husband, Wissam, returned to Qaraqosh in August 2017 after being driven out by the brutal militants.
“Our own house was completely burned. We all live here together now,” Khalisa explained. “This house was damaged when a nearby bomb exploded. The windows were all broken, the ceilings, the electricity and the water tubes destroyed. All our furniture was stolen or damaged. We thank you for your help. We are now able to return to our house.”
“We have a good life now,” Wissam says with a smile. “We no longer need to ask for help.”
“We have been back for two months and three days,” said Musa, another resident who has just returned to her hometown. “We are very happy to be back here,” she said. “We’re in our own house again. This is our land, this is what we’ve inherited. The destruction was terrible, nothing was left in the house and everything was stolen. Windows and doors were broken, but we were able to repair everything.”
“What helped us was our faith,” Musa added. “We can’t live without our faith, we’re very strong in the church.”