When ISIS captured the town of Qaraqosh in Iraq, thousands – many of them Christians – were forced to flee. Sadly, some did not make it out; others could not survive the journey. Today, Qaraqosh, once home to Iraq’s largest Christian community, is believed to be emptied of Christians.
Hanna Bakos was one of the thousands who fled Qaraqosh with her three children and relatives in search for refuge. When we met her in Beirut, Lebanon during our relief distribution for Iraqi Christian refugees, she voluntarily came forward to share her story with us. She spoke as one in affliction and yet, clothed with strength and dignity.
Read Hanna’s Story
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Life before the War
“I used to work at a kindergarten and my life was organised and established before the war. I have been a widow for many years as my husband died when my youngest girl was 10 months old. But life in Qaraqosh was good as we had a strong Christian community.”
Flight from Terror
“I had a heart operation and was resting at my brother’s house when ISIS came in the wee hours in the morning. There were loud noises. At 10am, my nephew came running into the house and his face was pale yellow after witnessing a child blown up. Pieces of the child’s body were on the wall and there was blood everywhere. But we did not want to leave because Iraq is our home. We stayed on for another 12 hours until our relatives called us and persuaded us because ISIS was going to enter our town. We left in such a hurry that we could not take anything except our passports and the clothes we wore. 22 people squeezed in each car so that we could leave the country. The journey to Erbil that usually takes 30 minutes took us 12 hours.”
“I was in great shock and pain, especially so after my heart operation. My daughter started to cry during the journey and she wanted to go back to take her father’s photograph. She did not want to forget the face of her father…”
At this point, Hanna broke into tears. She was putting up a strong front throughout her sharing, but when it came to her family, she could not suppress her emotions.
“When we reached Erbil, we slept in the garden of a monastery for three days. We finally decided to leave when ISIS called from my brother’s house. They found out his number from
his car plate. They told him to send them his car keys or they would demolish his house. My brother said, “I will not send you my car keys. Do whatever you want! Destroy the house, car, everything! I am Christian and I will stay Christian. I will never leave Jesus Christ!” They told him they wanted the children and women but we could not have that. My brother replied, “Jesus is with us and you can do nothing against us! We are going to stay at the crown of His head!”
Learning to Forgive in Suffering
“My life changed since I came here. Even though I come from a Christian background, I discovered another perspective in Christianity. I learnt how to forgive ISIS.”
After coming to Lebanon, Hanna and her family are still haunted by the past where they lost everything overnight. As a refugee in Lebanon, she is not entitled to housing or employment rights and has no means to support her children with education, medical treatment etc. Hanna relies totally on what organisations and churches provide. It was moving to hear her express her gratitude as we distributed the relief items consisting of some food items, personal hygiene products and Scriptures.
Hanna expressed her appreciation to the Bible Society: “Thank you for thinking of us. What you gave is very important. Our children are seeing how the Christians are standing beside us and it is very important for them to see this gift.”
Faith in God
Despite witnessing Hanna’s obvious pain and suffering, we were able to rejoice with them at how God was still visibly at work.
“It’s unbelievable that 20,000 people left Qaraqosh in one hour and none of them were touched in any way. They were all safe. It was a miracle!”
As we parted ways, Hanna implored that we would share her story with many so others would know about the help still needed for the refugees.
Hearing Hanna’s story and that of many others, the Bible Society is raising support to continue giving towards the needs of those in the Middle East.