After ISIS tried to wipe them out, Christians in Iraq are rising again

Mathi is elated to be home again, something that at one time didn't seem possible.(Photo: Open Doors UK & Ireland)

When the Islamic State drove Christians from their homes in northern Iraq in 2014, Mathi Habib Khodor and his wife Nazik took their six children and fled.

Now, six years later they have been able to seek refuge from Covid-19 back in their house, rebuilt after it was destroyed.

"We decorated the house so that it looks exactly like we left it five years ago," said Mathi, 55.

"The children asked us to leave the house the same, it has such good memories for them.

"They want to come here and relive those times, especially now that so much has changed."

When Mathi returned to Qaraqosh only hours after liberation in 2017, he never expected to see his home city come back to life again.

"I was just crying and crying," he said. "I couldn't believe how such a beautiful city changed into this devastated area.

"The houses were destroyed or burned down, there was rubbish in the street - it was abandoned, not fit to live in."

But walking through Qaraqosh, a sense of resolve came over Mathi.

"I became determined to return and rebuild my home here," he said. "I didn't know how, but I knew I would find a way."

As part of rebuilding efforts, charity Open Doors helped restore almost 2,000 houses of Iraqi Christian families.

"Islamic State tried to erase us as Christians, but we have returned," said Mathi. "My city was dead but now it is alive again.

"When I found out my house was going to be built it created a kind of joy in me that I cannot describe.

"I could rebuild my house and live there again, even though IS tried to wipe us out."

Mathi and with his wife Nazik(Photo: Open Doors UK & Ireland)

Father George, head of the reconstruction committee of Qaraqosh said: "In May 2017 we started with the reconstruction of Qaraqosh.

"We divided the houses into three categories: We started working on houses which had small damage, then worked on houses that were partially destroyed or burned.

"And now we have started our work on the houses that were totally destroyed.

"We had to start again from zero, but we did it because we had hope."

Rebuilding efforts have been a much-needed encouragement to the minority Christian community who would otherwise flee overseas following the deadly conflict.

Father George says "We have been able to restore 558 houses with small damage and restored 256 burned houses in this city alone.

"That means that more than 860 families could return home with the help of Open Doors, in this city alone.

"We have got a lot of hope to stay and we have encouraged families to come back to the city and make a new start here."

Open Doors Standing Strong Online 2020 event, which features stories of courageous faith from persecuted Christians around the world, takes place on Saturday, October 3 at 7.45pm.