Up to 50,000 Iraqi Christians are expected to come together to pray and commit their nation to God at a major gathering in Erbil on Friday (18 November).
SAT-7 will invite viewers across the Arab world to join with their Iraqi brothers and sisters in prayer by broadcasting the Life Agape ChristDay event live throughout the region.
The six-hour prayer and worship event (11am-5pm Iraq time) will feature testimonies from Christians from Mosul and the surrounding villages in the Nineveh plain area that was taken over by so-called Islamic State (IS) in 2014. It follows the liberation of many towns and villages to the east of Mosul – including the largest Christian town of Qaraqosh – while efforts to retake Mosul itself are ongoing.
Church leaders will pray for these locations and release prayers for Iraq in balloons. Taking part will be internationally-known Christian worship leaders Nizar Fares from Lebanon and Zyad Shehada from Jordan.
SAT-7 UK has prepared the below update and prayer guide to help you join in with Iraqi brothers and sisters as they pray for their embattled nation on Friday. Please forward this to other Christian friends and encourage them to pray as well.
Longing for home
When the Iraqi offensive to liberate the Mosul area began on 17 October, Iraqi Christians burst into impromptu celebrations, dancing, singing and praying in anticipation of being able to return to their homes. Hundreds of thousands remain displaced, most of them sheltering in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region.
More than two years after IS overran Mosul and outlying towns in the Nineveh Plains – home to the largest number of Assyrian (or Chaldean or Syriac) Christians in Iraq – hope was reborn that their lands would soon be liberated.
As many towns and villages were subsequently recaptured, people have started to return. Roughly-made wooden crosses were erected on church rooftops, bells rung and prayers said in IS-vandalised churches for the first time in two years.
But the attempt to retake Mosul itself – a city with up to 1.5 million civilians still living there – is meeting fierce resistance and likely to take weeks or months.
After a month of the campaign, how should we continue to pray for this city? And how should we intercede for the future of this country with its deep and destructive religious and ethnic divisions?
How to pray
“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked… Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” (Psalm 82:1,8)
- Give thanks
Firstly, we should give thanks with those who see their towns and citizens being freed from the repressive control of IS. Father Thabet, a priest from Mosul, told SAT-7’s Bridges programme at the close of the first week of the offensive: “It is great that the liberation comes at this time after two years have passed. But our joy will be complete when everyone is back home safe and secure.”
In a packed interdenominational prayer and thanksgiving service in Ankawa, a largely Christian suburb of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, Primate of the Chaldean Church, thanked all the forces involved in the military operation, mentioning “Christian and Muslim, Arab, Kurd and Turkmen”.
- Pray for liberators and captive residents
The various forces taking part in the offensive – Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi army, Shia fighters, and Christian militias, backed by US-led coalition air strikes – are engaged in ever-more intense conflict as they advance into parts of Mosul itself and remaining IS-held bases. Pray for the safety of the liberators and for the civilians being held as human shields by IS. Reports tell of thousands who were forced from their villages into Mosul in order to discourage the offensive. Some have acted to support the liberation forces, but at great risk. Iraqi News reported (9 November) that IS executed 30 civilians in central Mosul by electrocution for collaborating.
- For a safe return and reconstruction.
Before people can be encouraged to return, Father Thabet told SAT-7, “We need to make sure the liberation process is final, the area is secure and the path to return is safe, and we need to adjust the infrastructure and stabilise the economic situation.” It will take time and major investment to restore infrastructure, schools, medical facilities and to make battle-scarred towns habitable again.
- The reunion of families.
Then there is the rebuilding of families. TV reports have shown tearful reunions of family members who thought they might never see one another again. Pray that the thousands of families splintered by war can be reunited and rebuild their lives together.
- For the healing of a traumatised people
Iraqi civilians in IS-held areas have lived under tyranny for more than two years. Some Christians, unable to leave, forcibly converted. Every aspect of life has been policed from women’s dress to images stored on mobile phones. Punishment with lashes in a public square, the chopping off of hands and brutal executions have become commonplace. In schools, children have been indoctrinated in an effort to turn them into jihadists.
Healing from these experiences will not come quickly. Pray for counsellors to help overcome these traumas when the conflict ceases. Pray for the ministry of the Church in this area and for SAT-7 counselling programmes such as Medicine and Life.
- Pray against a renewal of terrorism in different forms
News coverage has reported stories of IS members shaving off beards and going to ground when towns have been reclaimed. SAT-7 International Chief Executive Terence Ascott said there are realistic fears that IS might splinter into units that leave Iraq and reform in other failed states like Libya and Yemen. Pray against this and that security will be established swiftly and effectively so that terrorist “sleeper cells” do not return to cause chaos as they have often done in the past.
- For an end to political and sectarian strife
On 30 October the Archbishop of Mosul celebrated the first Mass in Qaraqosh since its liberation. On that occasion he stressed that truly removing IS from Iraq would also mean eradicating the poison of sectarianism. Archbishop Butrus Moshe said, “This includes erasing sedition, separation and conflicts, which victimised us. Political and sectarian strife, separating between one man and another, between ruler and follower – these mentalities must be changed.”
Commentators have suggested that the reason Mosul fell so quickly to IS in 2014 was the continuing Sunni-Shia struggle for dominance, which had ripped the country apart since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. After centuries of Sunni dominance in the country, the Shia-led government installed under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursued its own heavily pro-Shia agenda. This so alienated Sunni populations that in Mosul some saw Baghdad, not IS, as their enemy.
In this light, we should pray that the liberation of towns from IS will not be accompanied by sectarian reprisals. Pray too that the government of present Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi will better represent the concerns of Iraq’s Sunni population and, indeed, all its citizens.
Pray too that Christians, as they return, can be agents of reconciliation. Terence Ascott points out that Christians will need our prayers to be able to forgive non-Christian neighbours who stayed behind and, in some cases, took over their properties. They will need God’s grace to forgive and rebuild trust with those they might feel betrayed them.
Watch and Pray
From 4pm-10pm (GMT) Friday 18 November: watch SAT-7’s broadcast of the ChristDay event and join your prayers with those of our brothers and sisters in Iraq.