Christmas Celebrated This Year on the Nineveh Plains, Iraq.

The region of Nineveh is one of the most ancient settlements of Christianity, going back nearly 2000 years. But, in August 2014, the town of Bartella, once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, was emptied when it fell to ISIL’s blitz across large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Islamic State targeted all non-Sunni Muslim groups living under its rule, also inflicting harsh punishment on Sunnis who wouldn’t abide by its extreme interpretation of Islam. The region’s Christians were given an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most of them fled to the autonomous Kurdish region, to the east.

Then, in October this year, Iraqi forces liberated Bartella in the first few days of their offensive against ISIL.

Bishop Mussa Shemali, speaking before a Christmas eve service at Mar Shimoni church, Bartella, which has been badly damaged, said: “It is a mix of sadness and happiness. We are sad to see what has been done to our holiest places by our own countrymen, but at the same time we are happy to celebrate the first mass in two years.”

“This is the best day of my life. Sometimes I thought it would never come,” said Shrook Tawfiq, a 52-year-old housewife displaced to the nearby Kurdish city of Erbil.

The front line in the battle to retake Mosul – ISIL’s last major stronghold in Iraq, has since moved a few kilometres to the west, into districts where the ISIL are dug in among civilians. However, it will be some time before people can return fully to Bartella, which remains without basic services, and many buildings still bear the scars of the fighting.

  • Give thanks for the return of Christians to this region of Iraq, and for the opportunity to celebrate Christmas together for the first time in many years.
  • Pray for full restoration of services to the towns around Mosul, including Bartella, and for people to be able to return to  their homes and live and worship without fear once again.
  • Pray for protection over the citizens of Mosul, as fighting continues and many are being used as human shields by ISIL. Pray for the speedy liberation of this city.
  • Pray for Christians across Iraq and Syria, for renewed hope as they approach a new year, for the light and life of Jesus Christ to shine through them, and for healing for these war battered nations.

Daniel 6 vs 26: “For he is the living God, enduring for ever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end.”


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