Every Christmas over the last three years, the team in Erbil tried to create space for the people to celebrate: putting up a modest Christmas lunch, giving gifts, and playing games. But in the midst of this, the most joyful time of the year for Christians was marked by prayers, grieving, questions, and a desperate attempt to keep hoping for the future. Most of the families in the camp had lost someone; a child, a husband, a wife, a parent; sometimes more than one family member. Most of the men were struggling with things they had seen and experienced, whilst a majority of the women were trying to keep their families going at the cost of neglecting themselves.
This Christmas, the tall skeleton of the building was empty: after Mosul and its surrounding area was liberated, most of the families returned to their hometowns and villages, and have started the long process of rebuilding.
In light of this, our local team needed to adapt their usual plans! They went to Mosul and the villages around to deliver much-needed food, hygiene and sanitary care packs, children’s toys, clothes, medical supplies, heaters, and other household utilities. They organised the usual Christmas party with the families from the refugee camp and many came. The children were so excited: joyful and loud like our team had never seen before. One father, bringing his children along, shared his experience: “It is good to have the freedom again to celebrate this joyful time of year, and to bring light into places that were turned into prisons and places of torture.” (So-called Islamic State used many churches as prisons during the war, carrying out executions in them.) “What kept me going in the camp was the thought that ‘it will all be okay one day; I only need to return to my home and it will all be okay.’ But now I am here… My home is no more, everything has been destroyed. The memories of my son, killed by a bomb, are unbearable as they are constantly in my head. Even in this, I want to celebrate this Christmas, and I pray that this first Christmas of freedom will last forever.’’
It was so good for our local team to see the joy of so many people celebrating more than just Christmas: choosing to rejoice in freedom instead of grieving, choosing to love one another, and choosing to hope for a better future. For these families, there is a long and hard journey ahead, as many are living in absolute poverty. But this Christmas they chose to celebrate life and a new beginning.