When Ariya* returned to northern Iraq with her two daughters after three years in captivity by Islamic State (ISIS) and other militias, her parents did not recognize her.
The 30-year-old Kurdish woman was one of 6,000 Yazidis seized when ISIS militants invaded Iraq in 2014. Yazidi religion being especially despised by Muslim extremists, over the next three years she was sold to fighters of different factions who raped her and her daughters.
She and her daughters were in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria when U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces liberated the city in October 2017. She found her way back to northern Iraq, eventually reuniting with her parents in a camp for displaced persons where local missionaries ministered to her.
“Her parents could not recognize her, as she looked as if she was 60 years old,” the leader of the native ministry said. “Her two daughters were exposed to trauma, still waking up every night and crying out in fear.”
ISIS forces killed an estimated 3,000 Yazidis in their invasion of Kurdish Iraq, including Ariya’s husband. The terrorists carried buses full of captured Yazidi women and girls through market areas of towns, calling out, “If you don’t have an infidel yet, this is your chance to take one,” according to National Public Radio.
Middle East Muslims consider Yazidis among the worst of “infidels.” Yazidi religion holds that a divine being created the world and gave stewardship of it to seven angels, including a preeminent figure known as Melek Taus (“Peacock Angel”). Later Muslims mistakenly identified Melek Taus with Satan, leading to centuries of persecution of Yazidis as “devil-worshippers.”
Local missionaries found Ariya in critical need of medical and psychological care, the ministry leader said.
“She was raped on a daily basis for three years, and she was sold 21 times to fighters of different nationalities who attacked her children in front of her eyes repeatedly,” he said. “She thought about committing suicide repeatedly, but every time she was afraid to leave her two children.”
The ministry’s mobile medical clinic provided medicines and treatments that helped restore the family’s health, and the ministry leader helped arrange for them to receive Christian counseling. He connected them with women from the ministry’s church that took the family in and cared for them.
“The family believed in Christ,” the ministry leader said. “Ariya’s father said, ‘If Satan had thought about inventing a religion, he wouldn’t have done what that criminal gang did; what religion is this who sells a mother with two daughters 21 times? I have not seen anything more beautiful and sweeter than Jesus Christ.’”
Yazidis in Iraq are only 0.14 percent evangelical, according to the Johua Project.
They are among the various displaced people from within and outside of Iraq trying to rebuild their lives following violence that has left their homes and businesses in ruins. Local missionaries are providing aid to 170 families, including about 300 children and 100 seniors, housed in two camps for displaced persons.
“During the first coronavirus period, we helped each family with $150 per month, and after that we opened markets and a free pharmacy inside the compound, providing food and baby food with medicines to all for free,” the ministry leader said. “The most important medicines that we bought and distributed are medicines that raise the immunity of children to protect them from diseases and winter viruses.”
Distributing Bibles along with the aid, workers have ample opportunity to share the gospel. They also bring the message of salvation in home visits, special programs and gatherings and at a mobile medical clinic, he said.
Those who have received Christ meet weekly for discipleship and daily for online group lessons, the leader said. Over one six-month stretch, 12 families put their faith in Christ, and a program to teach the Bible to children led to 64 of them commiting their lives to Him, he said.
“Church meetings in the two camps did not stop, but they were slightly affected by the pandemic,” he said. “More than 100 families joined the discipleship program in the camp, where we saw the Lord’s work in the lives of many who had believed.”
Terrorist and other armed violence continues in Iraq, which is also among the worst-hit by COVID-19.
“In the midst of all the stories, tragedies and the great number of deaths of the elderly and youth, the Word of the Lord comes to heal the sick bodies and broken souls,” the leader said. “So everyone who did not seek the Lord when he was strong and standing has sought the Lord when he became ill and on his knees.”
Many families say they would not have survived trauma without the Lord. A family in northern Iraq that received Christ two years ago was isolated amid the pandemic when their son suffered burns in an accident that left him deformed.
“As there was no means of transportation, it was difficult to go to the hospital and find medicine,” the ministry leader said. “His mother said, ‘Had it not been for the presence of Jesus in our life, had it not been that we had known that the Lord permitted the test of our faith, then we would not have been able to continue in circumstances like these.’”
Local missionaries are bringing the hope of Christ to such people throughout Iraq. Please consider a donation today to equip and encourage them during this challenging time.
*Name changed for security reasons