Stories of the Persecuted: Unshaken Faith in Iraq

It took thirty years for Jasem (whose name has been changed for security reasons) to surrender his life to Christ, but when the decision was made, there was no turning back. For Jasem, and his devoted wife, Rabiha, following Jesus in war-torn Iraq would result in years of isolation and hardship. Denounced by family, shunned by orthodox churches, and watching a daughter barely survive an attempted murder because of her conversion, they fled their homeland, but only to live in dire poverty as refugees. All the while, their faith could not be shaken as they sought to obey Scripture and fulfill the purpose God has for their lives.

Over thirty years, Jasem had steadily developed a close friendship with a Chaldean priest in Mosul. The priest, familiar with Iraq’s religious tensions and the cultural stigma against conversion from one religion to another, did not pressure Jasem to convert, but simply brought to light Gospel truths and encouraged Jasem to read the Bible for himself. “You should study all religious texts, including the Bible,” Jasem recalls the priest telling him. “Or, how else do you know where truth lies?”

Over the years, Jasem’s admiration of Christianity grew, which was more a result of the Christ-like example of the priest than anything else. For the most part, however, he kept his interest in Christianity to himself. Being from a Sunni Muslim background, he was afraid of the accusations he would face if caught straying from Islam. But, it would not be long until Jasem would have to decide if he and his family would remain Muslim or defy cultural norms and put their very lives in danger by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

In 2003, Rabiha, Jasem’s much younger wife from a Shia background, had a dream that she was sick. She longed for water, but nothing could quench her thirst. There she lied for three days waiting for death. When all hope was lost and her last breaths were upon her, a Christian approached and offered her a drink. “This is the Living Water which only Christ can give,” the Christian said. Rabiha drank and was healed.

Rabiha explained her dream to the priest and learned that Jesus called Himself the Living Water in the Bible. Jasem, who had been shying away from fully committing his life to Christ, viewed his wife’s dream as an undeniable sign from God. Soon after the dream, Jasem, Rabiha, and their eldest daughter, Ala’a, decided to follow Jesus.

Although they were now Christian, the family could not practice their faith openly. They knew they would be in grave danger if their newfound faith became known. Moreover, no church would allow them to attend services, afraid they would put the whole congregation at risk if they allowed former Muslims to join the congregation.

In 2007, Jasem and Rabiha decided to take another step of faith by pursuing their desire to be baptized before a body of believers. The priest referred them to a church in Jordan, but the journey proved more difficult than anticipated. Unable to cross the border into Jordan, they went to Turkey instead. Even in Turkey, however, churches they approached refused to baptize them. “For fifteen days we didn’t sleep. We were traveling from car to car, bus to bus, searching,” Jasem said. “But, no one would baptize us. We asked for help, but no one took us in.” Tired and defeated, Jasem and Rabiha returned home only to find greater hardships awaiting them.

They soon learned that their dear friend, the priest, had been murdered just blocks from their house only days before. They began hearing rumors that they would be next. Their pictures had been posted in neighborhood mosques denouncing them as apostates and offering a reward for their murders.

Hiding in obscure hotels and plotting their escape, a family relative eventually found them. With a knife and gasoline, he entered their hotel room, but only found Ala’a present. Pinning Ala’a to the ground, he poured petrol over his cousin’s body from the neck down and lit her on fire. “I’m doing this because you’re a Christian and you’re going to have to marry a Christian now,” Ala’a, who was only fourteen at the time, recalls him saying.

Returning to the room from an outdoor latrine, Ala’a’s younger brother Muhammad found his unconscious sister on the floor and sought help. Ala’a was confined to a hospital bed for a month before she and her family could flee Mosul to Erbil and later to Turkey for refuge.

“[Our nephew] would have tried to kill the entire family if we had been home,” Ala’a’s father told ICC. “Thankfully, our 12-year-old son was not in the room also or he would be dead.”

Upon arrival in Turkey, the family finally found a church that baptized them and took them in as their own. The churches they had sought in the past were all Assyrian or Chaldean orthodox, who sometimes frown upon evangelistic activity and converts to the faith. In Erbil, the family was introduced to a Protestant church for the first time and found a home among an Evangelical international community of Eritreans, Ethiopians, Middle Easterners and others in Turkey.

Recently, Jasem, Rabiha, and their four children moved to a western country after waiting three years in Turkey as refugees waiting to immigrate. Not permitted to work in the country, the children at times succumbed to begging on street corners for food. To make matters worse, Jasem has been in a wheel chair since 1987 after he stepped on a landmine while serving in the Iran-Iraq war. He is missing a leg and the other is severely mangled.

In partnership with a local Christian organization that is assisting refugees, ICC was able to help with some of the family’s expenses. When ICC offered to assist with additional medical treatment for the children, the parents said the money was no longer needed. “Yes, that used to be a problem,” Rabiha told me. “But after the pastor prayed over our children, they have not had that problem anymore. We don’t need the money now.”

Please pray for the family as they settle into their new home and begin a new life in a western country.

Source:  Crossing the Bridge (International Christian Concern)

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