Iraq (Open Doors) — Monks Barnaba and Boutros live in Mar Mattai monastery near the town of Bashiqa on the Nineveh Plains in Iraq.
Though the self-proclaimed Islamic State has now reached within three miles of their home, and danger threatens every day, the monks are resolute in their determination to remain, says an Open Doors report. “We aim to be an example by living on the boundaries of IS. Yes, this is dangerous. But our faith enables us to stay. We love to share that with other people.”
“Currently, we live there with six monks and our bishop Musa Alshamany,” Barnaba explained. “We also have supporting staff and students and two IDP (Internally Displaced People) families living with us. In total, we live with 26 people. Around us there are some small Christian villages where very few Christians still live.
“We try to keep our daily lives as normal as possible. We teach our seven students, but we also have our daily routines and work activities. Brother Boutros, for example, is very interested in agriculture and dealing with plants. I sometimes help him with that, so we work together in the fields. Our monastery is at the very edge of what is controlled by the Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters]; we are thanking the Lord for that. Of course we also monitor what is going on. Sometimes there is shelling or attacks.”
When asked how they deal with the constant danger, Barnaba replied, “Actually, we do not experience a lot of fear. If one of the monks starts to have worries or feelings of fear, we encourage that person to express them. Then the others comfort him. We need this encouragement from each other. We watch out for ourselves and monitor the situation, but we are not afraid because we know God is protecting us.”
They live in the shadow of death with a strong confidence in God’s strong presence in their midst. “We continue to live in the monastery because we have a huge trust that the Lord will protect us. Maybe we have more trust than other people. To know that we are only three miles away from IS makes us realize that we always live under threat of death. But our trust in the Lord is giving us the strength we need. Our life is like a testimony. We see that God is testing us through the situation. We can see that people return more strongly to God these days compared to when IS first arrived.”
When asked how they find the courage to live there, the answer was easy. “It is not about courage, it is all about faith. Our God gives us the strength to be in the monastery and to see that prayer works.”
Living by faith in this way has taught the monks much about God and His faithfulness in the midst of trouble. “Over the past 10 months and up until now, we have been experiencing the love of God.” Barnaba stated. “We have also learned a lot. I think there have been two messages from God to us, not only for the monastery but for all of Iraq. The first message is for the Christians because, in general, Christians have started to walk away from God. Through these difficulties and bad situations, God is teaching us how we can go back to Him. As a result, we testify and experience the love of Jesus.
“The second message is about Muslims. IS showed the reality of Islam. In general, Muslims used to know Islam from books only. But through IS, we have not only seen the theory, but also the reality of Islam. Please do not think that we hate Muslims. We cannot hate them because we love them and pray for them. We also pray for IS. What we have learned is that we should show the love of God.
“How would we be able to continue our lives as Christians without people supporting us?” Barnaba continued. “The IDPs would have been miserable if the Christians around the world had not supported them. The churches may have supported IDPs for two months or three at the max. But now, we are in the tenth month after IS came to the Nineveh plain. We could not have continued without your help.
“We always take time to thank God in our preaching and in our prayers for the people supporting us. We cannot continue without them.”
Father, we pray for these Iraqi believers facing the constant threat of danger on the plains of Nineveh. We pray for their protection and for their continued courage, and we pray that the light of Christ will shine through them and many others, so that the power of IS might be broken. We thank You for the testimony of their faith and the reminder that, spiritually, we too live in the enemy camp. Thank You for the lessons of faith these men have taught us. Strengthen us with the resolve to continue praying earnestly with fellow Christians in Iraq, as Paul urges us— “… be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18). And along with Christians in Iraq and our own nations as well, we “pray … that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph. 6:19-20). May Your Name be highly exalted in Iraq through this small band of believers. In the Name of Jesus, in whose power and authority we live and speak, Amen.