December 21, 2017
Thanks to the Islamic State (ISIS), for the first time in the history of Qaraqosh, Iraq, an evangelical church this month will hold a Christmas service in the ancient city.
That Christmas service will be especially meaningful for a native of Qaraqosh named Stephen. When ISIS terrorists tore through Qaraqosh and other towns around Mosul in August 2014 – setting church buildings aflame, smashing icons and toppling crosses and bell towers, besides raping, torturing and killing residents – Stephen fled along with most of the city’s 50,000 residents.
There were hardly any Muslims in Qaraqosh, as nearly all its inhabitants identified with traditional churches, including Stephen. Many have not returned since Iraqi forces retook the city in October 2016 because they have nothing to return to. Houses, shops, office buildings and water and electric services were all destroyed.
In December 2016, a smattering of Catholics gathered at the charred and gutted Church of the Immaculate Reception, which ISIS militants had used for a firing range, for their first Christmas Mass in Qaraqosh since 2013. Their service symbolized the regaining of the remnants of their town and cathedral.
Like many residents of Qaraqosh, Stephen, in his early 30s, had spent nearly three years in a camp for displaced people in Erbil, less than an hour east in northern Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan. When he returned to Qaraqosh earlier this year, he met up with some other formerly displaced Iraqis.
Those displaced Iraqis had been reading the Bible for the first time at a tent camp in Erbil after receiving copies, along with relief aid, from fellow Iraqis working with an indigenous ministry.
Like Stephen, one of the displaced Iraqis, Nasim, had been born and raised in Qaraqosh as a Christian in name only. Nasim learned of eternal life made possible by faith in the sacrifice and resurrection Jesus Christ for the first time from the leader of the ministry working in Erbil. The leader studied and prayed with Nasim for two years.
“During those two years, I discipled him and prepared him for the ministry in this historic period in which the hand of God intervened for the beginning of an evangelical church in the city of Qaraqosh,” the ministry leader said.
Since returning to Qaraqosh, near the ruins of the ancient Assyrian cities of Nimrud (the biblical city of Calah, renamed in modern times after the biblical hunting hero Nimrod) and Nineveh, Nasim has been building a two-story house there.
He led a small band of new Christians in worship, the first evangelical church service in Qaraqosh, on Dec. 7. Two days later, Iraq announced it had retaken ISIS’s last chunk of territory.
“The ground floor of the house is incomplete, so only the walls were dedicated for the future church meetings,” Nasim said. “We had the first meeting of the church, and it was in that house.”
At the service was a young woman named Lobna, who put her faith in Christ two years ago in the Erbil camp for displaced people. During the first hymn, with tears in her eyes, she gave thanks to God for answering her prayer of seeing an evangelical church in Qaraqosh.
Stephen visited the church service for the first time that day. After hearing the gospel for the first time, he put his faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.
“I have attended the church all my life, but I have never heard of following Christ in this way,” Stephen said. “I have never known that following Christ is a personal decision and not the spiritual inheritance of the fathers.”
He received a Bible for the first time in his life that day, and he is reading it daily. Stephen is excited to celebrate his first Christmas as a born-again believer – and the first since ISIS has been defeated in Iraq.
Ironically, there would have been no house church for him to set foot in had ISIS not terrorized Qaraqosh, as the resident who started the fellowship there, Nasim, would not have had to flee to a tent camp in Erbil, where he first heard the gospel.
Likewise, Nasim would not have encountered Christ as he did if Christian Aid Mission donors had not helped the ministry provide aid and Bibles in the tent camps. Please consider assisting indigenous missionaries to offer more aid and Bibles during the Christmas season, which in Iraq extends until Jan. 6.
| Help meet physical/spiritual needs of displaced in Iraq
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