Four years ago this month, Iraqi Special Operations Forces entered Mosul, Iraq in an offensive that began fierce fighting to liberate the city from Islamic State (ISIS) militants – and would lead to another kind of liberation.
During the prior month, October 2016, the Iraqi forces had been battling ISIS militants in the villages surrounding Mosul. In June of that year ISIS had invaded Iraq, subjected large swathes of territory to terror and seized Mosul.
The Iraqi Special Operations Forces entering Mosul from the east on Nov. 1, 2016, began weeks of intense battles against a variety of ISIS’s defenses, and the operation was slowed by precautions to keep civilians from harm. Amid the chaos and destruction, a Muslim father of eight saw his mother and brother killed.
After losing those relatives, Sami Hussein* fled with his family to a camp for displaced persons near Erbil, about 50 miles east. Mosul was finally retaken in July 2017, but the $50 billion effort to repair and rebuild it was expected to take until at least 2022. Enduring cold winters and rampant disease in the camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP), Hussein found low-paying work in an outlying village.
It was while working in the village that he contracted the novel coronavirus. The leader of a ministry based in Iraq said Hussein isolated himself from his family by sleeping inside a bag on the desert floor next to his family’s tent.
“Everyone was afraid to approach him,” the leader said.
Hussein saw how the ministry leader and his team regularly brought food and medicine to people in the IDP camp, and that they were leaving Muslims with Christian literature.
The ministry leader wrote that Hussein told him, “Originally, I did not need you because I was working, and I did not want to meet you because you were Christians. But when God allowed me to be infected with the coronavirus, you were the first people who came to my family and helped us. You approached me, and from two meters away you prayed for me to be cured. I did not understand your prayers in which you were repeating the name of Jesus, but I felt its power. Each day as I read the Bible you gave me, it gave me joy and peace.”
Amid the deep physical and emotional pain of trying to recover from COVID-19 in nights spent in the open desert air, Hussein found comfort in the prayer and Scripture that local missionaries provided.
“He recovered from the disease after suffering for a month, and he and the whole family asked Christ to their hearts,” the leader said.
The pandemic has brought deep challenges in how to provide fellowship and discipleship to new Christians such as Hussein and his family.
“The past period, in light of the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic, was characterized by continuous discipleship through WhatsApp and online meetings of studying books of the Bible through online chat with members of the churches and new believers,” the ministry leader said.
Establishing house churches has been more difficult as new Christians are not allowed to meet, but the families of most believers hold worship meetings in their homes, he said.
“Church meetings were limited to worship via video and audio recording using WhatsApp with the few people who have smart devices,” the leader said. “The vast majority, who do not have smart devices, focused on family prayer and worship in their homes.”
Among them was a new Christian raised in a Muslim family who has five daughters and two sons; they used to attend worship regularly at the local missionaries’ church. When churches were prohibited from meeting face-to-face, the new Christian said conditions forced him to become a pastor to his family and the allowable number of neighbors.
“I have had to open the Bible and read it carefully so that I could explain the passages to my family and my neighbor,” he said. “I never once imagined that I would preach from the Bible to my children and my neighbors. You will never know the happiness the Lord has given to me through this privilege of being a preacher of the Word of God.”
The pandemic has expanded the local missionaries’ work to providing food and medicine to people who have lost their businesses to lockdowns. Most aid, however, continues to go to the internally displaced and refugees from other countries.
“The coronavirus pandemic placed its weight heavily on them, which opens the door for us to intervene and help, and as we do this work, we present Christ and share the gospel with many,” the leader said. “The results are amazing as people interact with work of the Holy Spirit.”
Please consider a donation today to help local missionaries bring Christ’s love to the men, women and children suffering from displacement amid the pandemic.
*Name changed for security reasons