Christian communities throughout the Middle East are being decimated by ISIS and other terror groups, who are forcing them to flee, convert, or face instant, brutal death. This month, we introduce you to some of these brave Christians as we launch our new initiative to Rescue the Persecuted.
“I will tell you about my beautiful life and family before ISIS destroyed it,” 16-year-old Maryam says in beautifully accented English, with a wistful sigh.
“We lived in a lovely Christian town near Mosul in Iraq. My father was a businessman and he and his brother had two huge farms with hundreds of prime cattle. My mother was a housewife and took care of me, my younger sister, and two younger brothers. We lived a wonderfully normal life. My brother and I were always at the top of our class. I dreamed of becoming a doctor.”
This all changed on August 6, 2014, when ISIS stormed their village. “They came to our house and gave us three options: convert to Islam and fight with ISIS, flee within the hour, or stay and they would slaughter us.”
When her father’s older brother offered to go with ISIS to save the family, her father refused. “He told my uncle, ‘We will lose our money, our livelihood, our town. But we will not lose our love for Jesus. They will not take this away from us.’”
So the family got in their car and fled with only the clothes on their backs. The rest of the village did the same. They heard that ISIS razed their village the next morning.
Eleven members of Maryam’s family fled together, sleeping on the side of the road, in church gardens, in their car. After two years of barely surviving in Iraq, her father realized they could never return home and decided they would go to Jordan.
Friends from their town let them live temporarily in their apartment in Amman. “At first we did not go to school. I lost a whole year of my studies,” Maryam says with regret. “I took English classes at Father Jaar’s school for Iraqi Christian refugees. No one else gave us anything.” (Father Khalil Jaar is one of The Fellowship's brave partners on the ground caring for these refugees.)
Maryam’s father cannot work in Jordan, so he has no way to support his family. Every week he goes to the United Nations office to see about resettling in Australia. Every week they turn him away.
Yet, in spite of all of this, Maryam chooses hope over hate. She has decided to give rather than take. “There are good people and bad,” says Maryam. “I want to be one of the good ones.”
Maryam saw an ad about girls who donate their hair to cancer patients and decided to donate her own long, flowing hair. It was when Maryam finally went to school that she donated her hair to her teacher, who has cancer – and who is Muslim. “We are all people, we are all human, and we must help one another,” Maryam says passionately.
Where does she get her strength from? Maryam points to the picture of Jesus taped to the wall in her family’s apartment and says, “From him. I get my strength from him.”
“ISIS took everything from us, but I am going to give. This is the only way to be happy again,” Maryam says.