Sister Hayat, 30, lived a sheltered, spiritual life in a Dominican monastery near Mosul, northern Iraq. She took care of the children in an orphanage and taught anthropology at the local university.
However, in the summer of 2014, ISIL fought their way into Mosul and the nuns were forced to flee.
“When we realised that running was our only option, all the nuns packed a bag. We met in the church and prayed, before kissing the floor one last time and closing the door of the monastery behind us,” she told Open Doors International during a recent visit.
She never expected to be away from the monastery for long, but the military strength of ISIL grew stronger and most of the tens of thousands of Christians that fled the Mosul area in 2014 are still stuck in refugee camps. Their homes are now occupied by ISIL fighters or were robbed by their former neighbours.
ISIL also confiscated the monastery that Sister Hayat had called home for more than 10 years.
“Sister Maria, the abbess of our monastery, was called on her cellphone by an ISIL commander a few days after we left. ‘Just to let you know, I’m sitting in your chair now and am running things here,’ he said, obviously trying to taunt her. He asked her where we kept our weapons since he was convinced such a strategic building would have an armoury. Sister Maria guided him to the library, where she knew the Bible was. ‘There are no weapons here, just books,’ she said. The man shouted through the phone. ‘The Bible is the only weapon we use. I encourage you to start reading it,’ she said.”
Sister Hayat is now helping in a refugee centre in Erbil, where she spent five months caring for elderly nuns. She also started a prayer meeting among the youth in the camp.
“The needs of the refugees were so huge that we felt the need to begin praying in an organised way,” she said. “It started as a small seed with just a few youth gathered in the garden of a refugee centre. They lit candles and prayed silently or out loud. Many prayed things like ‘God, have mercy upon us!’ or ‘God, please let us go back to our homes!’
Sister Hayat says Christians in Iraq are “confused, in shock, and feel unsafe. They are without identity and feel completely lost in their own country. They’re asking God what He wants them to do. Should they migrate? Or should they stand firmly in this country, accepting what God is doing here? Pray that God opens doors for them and shows them which one to take.”
- Give thanks for Sister Hayat, and many others like her who are working amongst refugees and encouraging them in their faith in God.
- Pray for protection for Christians in Iraq. Pray that they will have hope, identity and confidence in the God who loves them and know clearly what is God’s will for them, as they live as refugees in their own country.
- Pray for the witness of Christians in Iraq, that the Gospel will be made known and many will come to know the truth or life and grace through Jesus Christ.
- Pray for peace in Iraq.
Deuteronomy 32 vs 10: “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.”