Iraq (MNN) — Iraqi forces declared victory in reclaiming the city of Fallujah from ISIS fighters on Sunday — a major victory after two and a half years of the city’s captivity.
Victory in Fallujah came after a two-week long offensive mounted by Iraq security forces. In a report from USA Today, British Army Maj. Gen. Douglas Chalmers says the fighting to get to the heart of the city was some of the fiercest he has ever seen.
ISIS control in Fallujah, Iraq has created 85 thousand refugees. Although the city has been taken back, Fallujah citizens can’t go home yet. Iraqi soldiers are still clearing out the city and checking for mines.
Fallujah lies around 40 miles away from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq and the second largest city in the Arab world. ISIS’ hold on Fallujah provided a critical access point to the capital. Now that Fallujah is once again under control of the Iraqi government, the capital is safer for it.
While several refugee families long to go home, Voice of the Martyrs, Canada’s Floyd Brobbel says others feel there’s nothing left to go home to.
“There are a number of refugees we hear who at this point have no hope of returning. They don’t even want to return. They have a lot of bad memories from being expelled by ISIS and at this point they are not ready to return. So they are looking for other options as opposed to returning home.”
Often when refugees do revisit their old homes, they are met with devastation.
Brobbel shares, “We had a report from some Syrian refugees who were able to return to their homes only to find their homes were completely ransacked. Everything that was in the home when they left was gone — completely stolen or destroyed. They’re in communities where the infrastructure is destroyed. There’s disease and dead bodies in the streets and decay. It’s not a safe place to go back to, not only because of the structural issues but it’s also just the devastation on the ground.”
The Church’s Role in the Middle East
While it’s safer and even important for Christian refugees to find safety assimilating to other countries, Brobbel says the Church should not just pull out of the Middle East.
“There was a lot of talk of needing to get Christian refugees to the West and to safety. And yet, while I understand that, we have always seen that if the Christian community leaves the Middle East, then it’s an even more hopeless situation. So there needs to be a strong Christian presence that remains, and we see our role then is to come alongside and strengthen what remains.”
Voice of the Martyrs, Canada is involved in relief work with refugees through partner organizations. They provide medical aid, food, and clothing for the shortages refugees are facing. And they are assisting Christians in the camps so the refugee churches can be a light to their neighbors.
“Before this all happened, the Church in the Middle East was fairly active in reaching out and living in harmony with their neighbors. So we encourage this same sort of thing now in refugee camps. While we’ve had projects that specifically work with Christians, we’ve added elements to the relief aid where they themselves will be able to take some of the relief that they’re given and give it to others who are in need.”
Christian refugees are distributing God’s Word, and many of their Muslim neighbors are becoming curious about the God of the Bible.
“Many who have been affected by ISIS are looking at the religion of Islam and they’re wondering, ‘If this is what Islam is about, then there needs to be something else for me.’ Many are turning to Christianity or at least looking at Christianity and [are] happy to receive a Bible.”
Brobbel asks that you pray for hope to be restored to the Christians and refugees. “To some it would seem like a hopeless situation. There’s just so much devastation. Many are traumatized of course by the things they’ve seen and witnessed and had to endure, and many have lost hope.”
Pray also for healing from physical and emotional wounds. Pray for wisdom among the organizations coordinating and rebuilding communities in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
“Prayer still is the number one request of persecuted Christians, so we take that seriously and promote prayer frequently in our activities and our work.”
To learn more about Voice of the Martyrs, Canada’s ministry and how you can pray for persecuted Christians worldwide, sign up for the Voice of the Martyrs, Canada’s monthly newsletter and their Persecution Prayer Alerts.