In 2015 I was invited by Archbishop Bashar Warda to northern Iraq, where the Diocese of Erbil was sheltering many thousands of people who had fled from the Nineveh plains to escape ISIS. Christians have lived in Nineveh for almost 2,000 years, yet in a matter of days were forced out of their towns and villages, often with nothing other than the clothes they were wearing.
When we arrived, the archbishop and his clergy were working unflaggingly to provide the displaced families with accommodation, food, healthcare and education in the relative safety of Erbil, while ISIS forces continued their rampage of looting and killing just a few hours down the road. Most of the people I met had lost everything and in many cases experienced terrible violence. Yet they showed an inspiring resilience and a determination to return home one day.
Two years on, they may finally have the chance. ISIS has been driven off the Nineveh Plains and some of the first Christian families have begun cautiously heading back. This is a story of resurrection and hope.
At the invitation of Archbishop Warda, I am returning to encourage this important Christian presence and witness. The simple message I bring to the Christians of Iraq is that they are not forgotten, as we continue to offer our prayers and support.
However, there are enormous challenges that still need to be overcome if they are to have any chance of rebuilding their lives there.
One of the most significant is that almost 13,000 homes have been seriously damaged or destroyed. Many were deliberately burnt by ISIS fighters, while others were levelled during fighting to retake the area. The result is that a large proportion of families who fled now have no habitable accommodation to return to.
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