By Voices Contributor Bill Devlin | (Photo: Bill Devlin)Church destroyed by ISIS, Baghdida, Iraq.
Imagine a city of 50,000 people that was totally destroyed — everyone left four years ago in August 2014 due to the city’s invasion of the Islamic State. Now imagine that same city being restored and rebuilt? That would be the ancient city of Baghdida in The Nineveh Plain.
Qarakosh, the Turkish name for this great city of Baghdida, was over-run by ISIS on August 6, 2014-every resident who could flee, left the city within 48 hours. Over the next 18 months, ISIS burned every home and every church. In October 2016, the city was liberated by Coalition forces. I had the opportunity to travel to Baghdida one month later, in November 2016-gunfire was still heard as I visited and I witnessed the total destruction of a once vibrant city. No people to be seen; the streets strewn with rubble; church sanctuaries used as headquarters by ISIS still had spent ammunition shells on the floors of the altars; each home and business had Islamic graffiti spray-painted on it stating, “Christians and Jews are the sons of pigs and monkeys.” On every building throughout the city. I returned again in November 2017 and the city still remained a ghost town. But then, in early 2018, something amazing happened.
What had been the most populous city in the area known as The Nineveh Plain was coming alive. For this third time, in May 2018, I had the opportunity to visit Qarakosh/Baghdida and the City was now alive! Businesses had re-opened, petrol stations appeared, the streets of the city were now filled with people: revival and restoration had come to this once destroyed city.
What made the difference was a committed group of devout Christians who were determined to return to their homeland and start anew. This ancient city, Baghdida, came to faith in Jesus Christ in the 4th century. Persecuted by Muslims over a millennia, the city grew to become the largest city in Iraq in the area largely populated by Christians which is known as The Nineveh Plain. The rebuilding of this city began with Syriac Catholic Bishop, Boutros Moshe. A determined priest who was ordained 50 years ago, decided to begin to repopulate his hometown. Bishop Boutros, a soft spoken leader who speaks fluent French along with his native tongue of the Syriac Catholics, Aramaic, recruited 22 other priests to come and rebuild Baghdida.
Every house in the city was evaluated and categorized-A, B and C. Depending upon the level of destruction, homeowners had to decide to rebuild or raze. Owners were required to put up the initial cost of fixing their homes, to be reimbursed after the repairs were completed. Upon my arrival there in mid-May 2018, some 7,000 homes were restored and others in process. Local churches, still burned on the inside and crosses & crucifixes bent and destroyed, were now being used for Christian worship. Because of the commitment and dedication of a Syriac Catholic bishop, 22 priests and the people they shepherd, this city, dedicated to Jesus, is being restored.
As I walked the streets with Bishop Boutros and Father Majeed and met hundreds of newly-arrived residents who had lost their home to Muslim terrorists, I sensed a happiness and a renewed hope. Shops were now open-selling everything from tea to sporting equipment; food could be purchased; the faithful were heart-broken that their places of worship to Jesus were burned and decimated, but they were there, worshipping their Lord and Savior. We stopped at one of the nine churches that had been burned and it was filled with people-people getting help. A section of the church was now a community center, assisting people and instilling in them a sense of hope on many levels.
In one of my many meetings over a two day time period, I met with Bishop Boutros and many of the local priests he had recruited to rejuvenate the city; I asked them, “How can I help you? How I help restore this great city?” There were and are many needs. One priest, in our excited conversation, caught my attention: “Abunah Abu Zakaria (my Middle Eastern name), we want to rebuild and restore the radio station that was destroyed by ISIS. Our city is only 20 kilometers from Mosul, the ancient city of Nineveh. Our desire is to rebuild the radio station, point the towers toward Mosul/Nineveh and preach The Good News to those who have no hope.” The heart exploded when I thought of the idea — I mused, “Both Jonah and Nahum had the opportunity to preach The Good News to Nineveh; I want to do the same.” I asked the priest how much he would need to restore the station and share Jesus’ Love with the city of Nineveh. He told me and I committed to the total amount.
Now, what will you do to help restore the faith of Jesus to The Nineveh Plain?