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Priest: Christian Refugees Are 'Iraq's Salt'

CBN News image, Jonathan Goff

ERBIL, Northern Iraq – As Iraqi troops break the Islamic State's hold on the city of Mosul, Christians in northern Iraq are anxiously waiting to see what will happen next. Many are balancing between a horrific past and an uncertain future.

When ISIS swept through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, tens of thousands of Christians ran for their lives.  

After fleeing Mosul and surrounding villages, thousands of Christians made their way to Erbil. Nearly 130 families live in a complex run by the Chaldean Catholic Church. It's a challenging situation, with three families sharing one apartment.

CBN News met with Ithara Assis and her three daughters, who escaped the ISIS rampage.

"We were scared and afraid and feel worried about this because we had heard that ISIS kidnapped many women and killed many women too so we were very afraid," Assis recalled.

Now they live in safe but crowded conditions, with five family members sleeping in one room.

As Assis and her daughters prepared a meal for us, we asked what she would say to a mother in the United States.

"We tell them that we need a quiet life. We need a safe life for us and for our children," she responded. "And we ask you to liberate Mosul to go back to our home.  What we need from all people in the world – to go back to our village and living a normal life as people are living."

Father Martin helps to lead this group.

"The big challenge is 'What's our future? Are we going to stay here? Are we going to leave? Are we going to go back?'" he explained. They'd lost their homes, he said, but they had not lost their faith.   

"Yeah, of course, their faith is very – maybe it was empowered by these difficulties," he said. "They are – every time they are praying – every time. They are also praying for ISIS to – to God have mercy on them, to make them a good people. They are praying for their – for their enemies."

That act is just one part of their faith. Martin sees the Christians of Iraq as its salt.

"So we can take, like a salt give a taste for the food, so we can give a taste for this country," he said. "They can see that we have hope, we have charity because we are living [for] the guy we call Jesus Christ."

Martin's church gave him the choice to live in San Diego with his family. Instead, he chose to return to Iraq and his people.

"I thought that we're called to don't escape from the problem – to face the problem and solve it if it will take a long time," he said. "That's my principle and that's what Jesus told us. He changed the whole world from – from Jerusalem. So we can here make a change from Iraq to the whole world."

Father Martin, Assis and thousands of others in northern Iraq want fellow Christians around the world to pray for freedom from ISIS and a return to the life they seek to regain.

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