The vaulted ceilings are charred and gray, almost like a cemetery. A simple plastic chair sits where the altar once was, looking out into the rubble of an empty church where a single soldier stands, looking around. Like the locals, he’s almost gotten used to the destruction. Ashes and toppled crosses mark the place where so many happy memories were made — marriages, baptisms, Christmas services. Now, the sanctuary is a pile of wreckage, a memorial to the march of ISIS that burned and bombed its way through town.
For more than two years, Muslim extremists smashed their way through cities like Qaraqosh, trying to erase thousands of years of Christian history. Now, the 30-mile trek to Mosul looks more like a trail of ruins. Slowly, like the quiet arrival of spring, that’s starting to change. Signs of new life are popping up around the city that used to be home to a thriving population of Christians. Fathers and sons are painting over the ISIS graffiti on town buildings; volunteers from Qaraqosh are rebuilding a giant cross on the side of the main road; priests are holding mass despite the mounds of debris.
But perhaps the greatest sight was this past Sunday when, for the first time since ISIS drove the Christians out, crowds of people made the pilgrimage back to the Nineveh plain for Palm Sunday. Our friends at Open Doors USA marveled at the picture of thousands of Iraqi Christians waving palm trees and shouting “Hallelujah!” “Two and a half years ago,” a young teacher said, “we were displaced and we almost lost hope to ever return here. But today, we are here again, because of Jesus; because we had hope in Him.” As you can see, he told the relief workers, looking around, “The Christians have returned to Qaraqosh!”
In a few days, the town will celebrate Easter — knowing, as so many do, the risks. Like people around the world, they understand what could happen. For Christians in the Middle East, there is no peace — not even on Easter Sunday. They’ve watched deadly explosions rock churches from Syria to Nigeria. Still, they are not deterred. “Easter is a message to humanity — a message of new life,” a university professor told Open Doors. “After torture, after hardships, after tough conditions, there will be life again. Just pray for us to be protected,” he says. “To be sound and safe in our country from now on.”
While the international church prays, Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback plans to act. Trump’s new fixture at the State Department is more determined than ever to fight for every person to worship freely. At events marking the U.S.‘s declaration of genocide against Christians, he raised the importance of the issue to audiences across DC. “It is more dangerous now than any time in history to be a person of faith,” the former governor pointed out, citing the terrible conditions in Burma, China, and Venezuela. “We are at a critical moment for the future of religious minorities globally,” he warned. And fortunately, there’s a man in the White House who understands that. “I would like to see religious freedom be for this administration what climate change was for the last,” Brownback said.
Of course, the new secretary of state will be critical to that effort. As conservatives have said from the beginning, former CIA Director Mike Pompeo would be an excellent partner in the fight for the rights of the persecuted church. A fellow Kansan, he understands how vital religious liberty is to America’s interests abroad. If you haven’t contacted your senators and encouraged them to support Pompeo’s nomination, make sure you do. The fate of our freedom — and of millions of brothers and sisters in Christ — depend on it!