A man named Ishaq described the joy of once again celebrating Easter in the town of Bartella, Northern Iraq. “We feel like we’re in Jerusalem celebrating with Christ,” he said.
It’s hard to underestimate how important this is. Since the rise of Islamic extremists, over 1.2 million Christians have left Iraq, and only 250,000 remain. The exiled pastor of an Anglican church in Baghdad said that the era of Christianity in Iraq “is all but over.”
But Samaritan’s Purse has been working in Iraq and the Middle East for decades, and we knew that many Christians would return if they could. That’s why we are helping families across the Nineveh Plains to rebuild houses that were left in ruins by ISIS. We launched Project Nehemiah to help up to a thousand families rebuild and repair their houses—work that would have been far too much for them to afford.
Bartella was among several predominantly Christian towns seized in 2014 by ISIS terrorists. They gave Christians an ultimatum: convert to Islam, leave town, or face execution. Thousands of families fled to safety in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Ishaq and his family took shelter in a school and then lived in tents through a snowy winter.
After Bartella was liberated from ISIS last year, Ishaq was eager to return. But his home was barely recognisable. Plumbing was ripped out, floor tiles shattered, and walls damaged. Through Project Nehemiah, we’ve completed repairs, and Ishaq and his family—including his widowed mother-in-law, her two grown daughters, and two grandchildren— are now back in their home.
Ishaq’s house is among over 300 that Samaritan’s Purse has already restored. “This is the only thing you can do to keep Christianity here,” said Yousif, our Iraqi project manager, who was himself displaced by ISIS. “Christianity is in danger now. Believers have been persecuted. They feel that there’s hate and that they’re unwanted. The only thing to connect them with their country is their homes. If they lose their homes, they have nothing to keep them here.”
In the city of Qaraqosh, a man named Adib sat in his home while our construction crew worked on replacing the ceiling in his kitchen and recounted how his ordeal began. His family was trapped for 11 days after ISIS invaded their town. Once when they tried to escape, they were among 40 families captured by ISIS fighters, who shouted “Allah Akbar!” in their faces to intimidate them into converting to Islam. Miraculously, they finally escaped and spent three years in the city of Erbil before they could return to Qaraqosh.
“I was the first person to see the house and I was shocked,” Miriam said. Trash three feet deep filled the home, all their furniture and belongings had been burned, and windows were broken. She tried to clean it up but became sick because of the smell and the ashes.
Through their church, they learned that Samaritan’s Purse would help them rebuild their home. We have replaced floor tile and light fixtures, reapplied stucco to the scarred walls, and painted the entire home. “We thank the Lord that our house is being rebuilt,” Adib said.
Adib said that his faith has grown deeper through the ministry of local churches and Samaritan’s Purse. “The situation I went through changed my life. I was a bad person. I was always cursing and swearing, but what I experienced made me realise that I needed the Lord. I asked the Lord to be with me, and He showed me His love and care for me. God was with me from the time I left my home until He brought me back.”
With God’s help, Samaritan’s Purse will do all we can to lift up the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Nineveh Plains. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, even Israel’s enemies took notice, “for they recognised that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16, NASB).
The same is true today for persecuted Christians returning home in Iraq. One pastor told us, “When the evil one comes, it may look like he has the victory, but that’s not the end of the story. The cross is. We stand firm in our faith. Why? Because our Lord says: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31, NKJV).”
Thank you, and may God bless you.