This week, hundreds of Christians in northern Iraq celebrated Christmas in their own churches, for the first time in years.
Back in 2014, ISIS swept across the Nineveh plains, capturing town after town—including some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. ISIS persecution targeted Christians, Yazidis, Muslims, and others. No one was safe.
Recently, we returned to one of those ancient Christian communities north of Mosul, just after it was liberated from ISIS. What the militants left in their wake when they fled was tragic.
The town is destroyed. The church is destroyed.
The walls are littered with ISIS graffiti—statues and icons defaced, columns spray painted with the words “God is great.”
We stood and wondered why anyone would feel the need to mark their territory in this way.
Lots of people believe that God is great. The Christians who worshiped in this church believed it long before ISIS spray painted it on the walls.
Muslims all over the world believe that God is great, without feeling the need to prove it by defacing another religion’s sacred spaces. Even as Christians in northern Iraq returned to their churches, Muslims in Baghdad joined in Christmas celebrations as a sign of solidarity with their Christian neighbors—because, as one Baghdad resident put it, “We are one people.”
ISIS deserves no credit for believing that God is great.
What they miss—as our priest friend reminded us, standing amid the ruins of his church—is that, “God is great because God is love.”
That’s what brought hundreds of Christian worshipers back to their destroyed churches this Christmas.
That’s what brought Muslims out in force in Baghdad to celebrate the holiday alongside their Christian neighbors.
That’s what inspires Muslims, Yazidis, and Christians in one displacement camp in northern Iraq to share with each other and to honor their respective religious traditions.
As we go toward the front lines, toward civilians who need our help—as we show up for families in Aleppo, Mosul, Fallujah, and beyond—we do so with the words of our priest friend echoing in our hearts.
This is who we want to be: the kind of people who push into the hard places with love. The kind of people who would even lay down our lives for others—whether they are Christian, Muslim, Yazidi, or any other faith, or no particular faith.
This is the message we’ll continue to share in the year ahead—amongst ourselves and to anyone who will listen:
There’s a lot of death surrounding us. But there is a whole lot more love.
Share your love with families in war-torn places like Aleppo and Mosul in 2017.