Thousands of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes in recent weeks. Faiez’s family left their home in Mosul when extremist Islamic group IS took over the city, giving Christians and other minorities a chilling ultimatum: convert, leave, or die by the sword.
Everything was taken from Faiez and his family at an IS checkpoint as they left the city. ‘They even took my son’s pocket money. It was only 250 Iraqi dinars [about 10p],’ he laments.
Thousands of Christians have taken refuge in the autonomous region of Kurdistan in the northeast of the country, where there is relative safety. According to Louis Sako, the archbishop of Iraq, some 70,000 Christians have arrived in Erbil and 60,000 refugees have arrived in Dohuk. Many homes are filled with relatives who have escaped from other parts of Iraq and churches are beginning to run out of space to house refugees.
‘If these are full, then they flow over into the gardens or courtyard of the church,’ an Open Doors partner told us. ‘They are everywhere!’
Lydia, another Open Doors representative, recently visited a church in Erbil that is supporting 260 families, with 216 families living in the church courtyard. Every day the church provides breakfast, lunch and dinner for more than 1,000 people.
‘Prayer and giving money often feels like it is too easy, but it's not,’ says Lydia. ‘It is making a huge difference in places like this.’
The response to the Iraq crisis from Christians in the UK and Ireland has been phenomenal. More than £1 million has been donated to the Open Doors emergency appeal, allowing the charity to provide ongoing support to 3,000 families like Faiez’s, including food, hygiene kits and bedding.
On 14th August, hundreds of people, including TV presenter and committed Christian Bear Grylls, gathered to pray for Iraq in Parliament Square. More than 30,000 people have signed a petition set up by Premier Christianity contributor Martin Saunders calling on the UK government to respond.
However, the crisis in Iraq will not be solved overnight. The need for practical support will be ongoing and thousands like Faiez wonder what the future holds for them. Please continue to do what you can: to pray, to give, to campaign.
Iraqi Christian Raja*, who is helping with our relief programme, said: ‘I hear that people around the world are praying for us and supporting us. To those people I want to say: thank you.’
*Name changed for security reasons
Tune in to Premier Christian Radio from 12.30pm every day or visit our Pray for Iraq page for regular updates on Iraq. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to receive live updates using #PrayForIraq.
Blog written by Imogen Wells from Open Doors
Top image: Hundreds of people gathered to pray for Iraq in Parliament Square [Credit: Doug Cruz]