“I want peace for Christmas.”
The name “Emmanuel” means “God with us”. It is a beautiful promise of hope, especially for the children celebrating Christmas far away from their home.
For this particular group of 17 children, the atmosphere certainly has a Christmas feel to it. The children are aged between 8 and 12 and they are standing at the front of this Syriac Orthodox church, getting ready to sing Christmas songs. Some fiddle with their music sheets. Others patiently listen to Father Zachariah rehearsing on the ‘oud’, his pear-shaped stringed instrument.
The tree, the nativity scene, the blinking lights, the music - they make it feel like Christmas.
But some things about this service or church are less traditional. The walls are foam-core aluminum panels, usually found in a factory or a warehouse.
The children are here in Erbil, but their homes of birth are far away, a place some of them barely remember. Father Zachariah’s heart aches to return to Mosul, 80 kilometres to the west. But Mosul is still too dangerous, and there are too many radical Islamic influences there to return at the moment. So he will celebrate Christmas here in Erbil, with these children and their families. It is the seventh year they will celebrate Christmas away from their home.
The choir sings beautiful hymns, with unique tunes and rhythms, based on the Eastern Rite. They won’t be familiar to Christians everywhere, but some of the words, like ‘Hallelujah’, are echoed by Christians across the globe.
After the singing, the children talk about their greatest wish for Christmas. Their answers reveal the kind of world they have grown up in. One wishes for peace. Another wishes for a visit to their home church in Iraq. One girl says she wants to live with the security of other children around the world.
Open Doors local partners have been involved in supporting children and their families who were forced to flee IS since they first arrived in Erbil – first with emergency aid and child friendly spaces, and later with trauma care, education, and helping parents start small businesses. Your support and prayers make this work possible.
Open Doors also supports churches in Iraq to provide ‘Christian education’ for children – like a Sunday school that also runs during some of the school holidays. The children sing Christian songs and learn the original Syriac language – a language that is closely related to the Aramaic spoken by Jesus. They also learn Bible stories, and they have the ‘Kitabi club’, which means ‘My book club’. The children receive a children’s Bible or read other books from the library, provided with support from Open Doors.
Please continue to pray for these children and their families this Christmas. Ask God to keep them safe, provide for their needs, and help them to truly know ‘Emmanuel’ – that God is with them.
What do you want for christmas?
"I ask the Lord to protect my church in Iraq." - Dima
"I pray that there will be no terrorists in this world, so we can live in peace." - Fakhri
"We want to live in peace and security like other children in the world." - Lydia
"I love to live like other children in the world in peace and love." - Marina
"I wish that I would be able to go back to my church in Mosul." - Mark
"I wish that people can live in safety and in peace." - Sam