“We left Iraq because of the cruel circumstances there, particularly the persecution of the religious minorities and the displacement of Christians,” wrote “Aren”. “Threats, kidnappings, demand for high ransoms have increased. We have a 17-year-old daughter ... We cannot let her go the school by herself because we are afraid that she might be kidnapped, raped or killed. We are living in continuous fear because of the instability of our country.”
Australia has pledged to accept 18,750 refugees in the year July 2018 to June 2019. And Barnabas Fund’s Operation Safe Havens is covering flight costs for persecuted Middle Eastern Christians like Aren and his family, who have been granted visas to Australia. Our hope and prayer is to issue 100 air tickets in the next three months, and 500 in the whole of 2019. Will you join hands with us to rescue our brothers and sisters who have endured so much for Christ?
Rescued from …
“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 Iraqi Christian 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.
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. “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 used to suffering for Christ. Daily life for Christians in Mosul could be dangerous even before Islamic State arrived on the scene. In 2010 Mikael had come top of 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 first position, and therefore he was only awarded second place at his graduation.
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 from officials and from ordinary people.
A safe haven in Australia
The Australian government has a great track record for recognising the vulnerability of Christians in the Middle East. For example, in the year 2016-17, Australia accepted 7,394 Iraqis of whom 74% were Christians, and more than 6,000 Syrians of whom 77% were Christian. This generosity has continued – praise God.
Australia recently granted visas to Aren and his family and to Rashel and her family. Just one obstacle remained – the families did not have money for the airfares. But Barnabas Fund’s Operations Safe Havens has bought them tickets and, God willing, the families will be arriving in Australia next week to re-settle and start new lives.
Operation Safe Havens is there to rescue Middle Eastern Christians who feel they have no future in their homeland or region, who yearn to settle in a place of stability, safety, equality and freedom. By next week, the first 25 plane tickets of 2019 should have been arranged. We hope to issue at least 100 tickets in the next three months, and 500 in the whole of 2019.
The typical cost of a ticket is £675 ($900; €790).
Be part of the rescue operation. Please give today.