Escape from Mosul
July 24, 2014
Mosul has been a Christian stronghold in Iraq for centuries. With the takeover of the city by the radical Islamic group ISIS, many Christians have fled to the more hospitable Kurdish region.
After nearly 2,000 years of Christian heritage, Mosul was emptied of the remnant of its faithful believers July 19 by order of militants who seized control of the Iraqi city last month.
Leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) issued a decree a week ago stating Christians in Mosul had three options: convert to Islam, pay a special tax called a jizya, or face execution. Families were given a deadline of noon on Saturday to evacuate. According to the announcement, if Christians did not comply, “They will have nothing but the sword.”
Several hundred Christian families were believed to still be living in Mosul just two weeks ago. Most Christian residents had already escaped the city, heading north to the Kurdish-controlled region of the country.
Those remaining families who were part of the final exodus left with only the clothes they were wearing. Some were stopped at checkpoints at the edge of the city, where armed men confiscated their cars and any personal belongings, including cell phones and money.
Elderly or sick believers who cannot travel out of the city face a very different challenge. According to the Assyrian International News Agency, 15 Assyrian families with members who were not healthy enough to flee opted to convert to Islam. The New York Times reported that five Christian families consented to a forced conversion to Islam because they have members who are also too ill to venture away from Mosul.
A ministry based in the Middle East has helped 40 families escape from Mosul during the past six weeks. Christian Aid Mission has supplied funds to provide food, clothes, medical assistance, and shelter. All of the families are Muslim-background believers (MBB) who have faced great peril due to their conversion to Christianity.
The ministry leader sent this first-hand account to Stephen Van Valkenburg, the Middle East area director for Christian Aid:
I picked up eight new families from Iraq last week. Things are extremely hard on those who stayed and don't want to leave. Those MBB families that arrived looked like wounded soldiers coming back from the battle. Of course they had nothing with them except some clothes. They couldn't talk much. Even when we reached our destination where they are currently staying, they were too frightened to talk. They were in shock.
In Mosul they had been living through hell—trauma after trauma after trauma, taxing them beyond what they could endure. They left everything behind. They have been emotionally and physically abused for the past month. They were permanently scarred by barbarian tactics. They love Jesus and wanted to stay in Mosul to be a witness, but beatings and killings were more than they could endure.
We had a cup of tea together before I left them at their temporary living quarters. I said, “Sorry, but I need to go now. It is late and you need to rest.” One man grabbed my arm and said, “Please stay. Don't leave us.” You could see they were scared. I was their only human source of security.
Iraqi Christians are weary of persecution and war.
As I started to pray, tears started running down my face. I couldn't finish praying. I looked at them and could see that they had been through a lot. I decided to stay with them until almost everyone went to sleep. One brother asked that we pray for some MBBs who refused to leave and want to serve the Lord in Mosul, even with all the threats they are getting.
Please pray with us for these new families. Pray especially that we can find a place for them to stay. We only have this current place for a week, and we need to find them another location. Pray for the kids, as they are still in shock.
Pray for two of the women. We could see that they were deeply wounded, even on a physical level with rape and extreme abuse. Pray that the Lord will give them strength during these difficult days. Without God’s help, they will never recover from this trauma.
These new families are now with us. We have no choice but to care for them. They need rest, a place to live, food, prayer, and much, much, much grace from God.
A decade ago, an estimated 60,000 Christians lived in Mosul. Those numbers plummeted after several waves of attacks on Christians following the 2003 American invasion and ousting of Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.
The Christian population in the city prior to the ISIS takeover in June numbered around 35,000 people.
Mosul is the capital of the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq, located across the Tigris River from the ancient Assyrian city where the Old Testament prophet Jonah preached around the 8th century BC.
The Mosque of Prophet Younis (Arabic word for Jonah), located east of Mosul, houses a sepulcher that is believed to be the burial place of Jonah. Earlier this month there were unconfirmed reports that ISIS militants destroyed the tomb, along with many other ancient shrines in the region.