“You have three options: convert to Islam and get your properties back, leave the Islamic State for good and your properties will be owned by Islamic State, or be killed.” This phone call was received by “Rashel”, a 59-year-old Christian woman in August 2014, as Islamic State (IS) extremist fighters entered the small town in the Plains of Nineveh to which she and her family had fled from Mosul.
A faithful family
To deny Christ was unthinkable. The family fled again – this time into Kurdistan. It was a “miracle from Jesus”, said Rashel as she remembered how they escaped unharmed amidst gunshots and falling mortars. They were part of a human tide of up to 200,000 Iraqi Christians who fled before the advancing IS troops that summer and sought refuge in Kurdistan.
Rashel’s son “Mikael” also got a phone call from IS, who by this time had occupied their family home. “Are you a Muslim or a Christian?” asked the unknown caller in Arabic. “I am honoured to be a Christian,” said Mikael, thinking no doubt of how Christians are despised as second-class people by Islamic extremists. A furious response came down the phoneline: “You are Christian!! So all your electronic equipment now belongs to the amir (prince) of Islamic State.” “I am honoured to be a Christian,” affirmed Mikael again, “Take what you want.”
Suffering for Christ as a student
Rashel and her children were already well used to suffering for Christ. Daily life for Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul could be dangerous even before IS arrived on the scene. In 2010 Mikael had come first in his class at Mosul’s Technical Institute. But Islamic extremists believe that Muslims must always have supremacy over non-Muslims. Mikael was threatened by extremists with a gun that he should yield the top position, and therefore he was only awarded the second place at his graduation ceremony.
The following year, his sister “Rahma” was forced by radical Islamists to wear an Islamic head-covering. Although in her final year of law studies, she gave up attending classes as she was so fearful of what the extremists would do to her next.
Hardship and hostility
In Kurdistan, the family were safe from IS but life was very hard. Their first “home” in Kurdistan was an unfinished building, without water or electricity, where they had to survive in summer temperatures that reached 45°C or even 50°C. They discovered that they still had to face daily discrimination, partly because they were not Kurds and partly because they were Christians. Again their property was taken from them, and they faced hostility both from ordinary people and from officials.
Operation Safe Havens
Almost three years ago, with help from Barnabas Fund, Rashel’s family applied for a visa to migrate to Australia. Earlier this month it was finally granted. Just one hurdle remains: the family – now in Turkey – have had all their property stolen from them and cannot afford the one-way airfares they need to get to Australia.
But Operation Safe Havens will buy those plane tickets for them.
Barnabas Fund’s Operation Safe Havens is there to rescue Middle Eastern Christians who can no longer face life in their beloved Middle East, due to anti-Christian pressure and persecution. Over 2,200 Christians from Syria and Iraq have already re-settled in Australia, with the help of Operation Safe Havens and thanks to the generosity of the Australian government in giving visas. Hundreds more have gone to other secure and free countries.
But many thousands more Christian refugees are still in need, marooned in countries like Turkey, unable to go back, unable to settle, unable to go on to a safe and permanent home. Please help us to keep helping our faithful brothers and sisters to find a safe haven.