With the almost total expulsion of the Islamic State from the war-torn country of Iraq, many Christians who suffered severe oppression under the Islamic group have begun to return to their hometowns. But many, especially women, remain missing.
In August of 2014, the murderous militants swept through many towns around the city of Mosul, butchering Christians, selling women into sex slavery and decimating the town’s ancient churches. It is estimated that some 70,000 Assyrian Christians fled the city of Mosul alone. Then there was the neighboring town of Qaraqosh, which was Iraq’s largest majority-Christian town in the entire country. When ISIS invaded, thousands of women and girls were subject to rape, torture and forced sexual servitude.
Despite the town being liberated from ISIS control in 2016, there are still many women who have yet to return. Roughly 26,000 Christians have come home to Qaraqosh. However, out of 45 women kidnapped by militants, just seven have returned. One of these women is “Rana.”
Rana was taken by ISIS militants when they rolled into Qaraqosh on pickup trucks one fateful day in 2014. She, along with several other local women, was lined up in front of a Mosque and picked out by an Islamic fighter. Loaded into a car, she was then taken to Mosul, where she endured constant abuse and was sold to various owners for up to $25,000.
“I wanted to escape but there was no way to run away or leave,” she explained in the language of “Syriac,” an ancient dialect still used by Christian communities in the region. “All the streets were full of mines. The family said, ‘If you go outside that door we will kill you.’”
In order to survive her enslavement, Rana pretended to convert to Islam. Secretly, though, her heart still belonged to Jesus.
She prayed and fasted five times a day. At night, she would plead with God to liberate her from such wicked men. Despite holding on to her faith in Christ, her ordeal became so horrific that she thought about ending her own life.
“There was so many times where I could have committed suicide, but I decided I did not want to lose my soul,” she explained, according to the Times. “I still had one bit of hope.”
Finally, as an international coalition of allied forces beat back the demonic ISIS forces, Rana was released and returned to her hometown of Qaraqosh. But upon her return, this staggeringly brave woman was ridden with guilt — she felt ashamed to have appeared to convert to Islam while in the deathly clutches of her evil captors.
But her Church showered her with grace. Father Duraid Barbar, a local priest, explained: “The women tell me, ‘I’m sorry because I left Jesus.'”
“I tell them, ‘There’s no problem, because Jesus loves you, he never left you,’” he said.
And for the women who are still missing — alone, afraid and ashamed — the same message applies. Jesus loves them, and he is desperate for them to come home. As Iraq’s Christian community continues to rebuild their towns and cities, pray that all these courageous and faithful women would return safely home to their families.
In December last year, many of the town’s returning Christians celebrated Christmas for the first time in years. It was a bittersweet occasion.
Father Butros Kappa, the leader of Qaraqosh’s Church of the Immaculate, told the Guardian that he found it difficult to raise his congregations hopes for the future as he celebrated Christmas Mass.
“We’ll have a Christmas Mass like in previous years, but this year, ours will be a joy soaked in tears, because all of our people have left Iraq,” he said.
Continue to pray for this ancient community of faith as it heals from this incredibly dark period.
(H/T: The Times)