Iraq Project Update: Helping to Build New Lives

Sep 30, 2022 | VoM

Since fleeing genocide and persecution by Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014, Iraqi Christians have begun returning to their homes.

Upon returning, however, they have found their entire home towns, including their businesses, were completely destroyed.

These religious minorities in the Nineveh Plains and Sinjar regions have received little help or investment from either the Iraqi government or the international community.

Without economic revitalisation projects to create jobs, poverty, migration and unrest will continue to form barriers to peace and stability.

Voice of the Martyrs Australia is investing in the work of local mission partners to restore and restart businesses as a means of transforming devastated towns and villages. The work assists Christian minorities resettling in their liberated cities by funding small and medium-sized businesses through grants.

These Christian minorities are given the opportunity to work and earn a living to rebuild their lives with dignity and purpose. The businesses started to help strengthen these beleaguered communities so they can thrive in their homeland.

Many of these businesses are run by families and employ multiple family and community members, so the benefits are far-reaching. Below are three of the businesses that VOM Australia helps support.

Gift Shop & Photo Studio

Elias had just begun working as a freelance photographer in the Nineveh Plains when ISIS attacked the region. His family fled with many other Christians to the northern Christian suburb of Erbil, where they lived with three other families in one house.

After the liberation of the Nineveh Plains, Elias’s family was one of the first families that returned, only to find that all they had was gone. Their house had been burned down, and they had lost everything.

Elias put forward a proposal to obtain a VOM-funded grant to open a gift shop and photography studio, as by this time he was well-known as a professional photographer.

“When I was selected for this project, I had just become newly engaged. I was very happy and remembered an example from the Bible: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who went on a journey: he called his servants and entrusted them with his wealth. To one he gave five talents of silver money, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

“Immediately the servant who had received five talents began to manage them, and he gained five more. Likewise, the one who had received two talents gained two more. But the one who had received the one talent went and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“I want to be like the servant in the parable who received five talents. I want to serve my Lord and my family. I want to be an example to others and build a prosperous future in my homeland, preserving my religion, language and culture. Now, I have been given a chance and I will fulfil it!”

Elias has already identified, trained and employed two women as staff in the shop. He intends to train additional young people to work with him so that the business can expand.

He continues his responsibility for his own family, and looks forward to saving money to get married and to build his life in his homeland.

Market Business

Botrous lives together with his wife and daughter, his parents and grandmother. He is the breadwinner for the entire family, and before ISIS attacked their village, Botrous had always had work as a tradesman.

The ISIS invasion forced the whole family to flee to Ainkawa, where they stayed until the liberation of their town in the Nineveh Plains.

When the family finally returned to their home, they had lost everything. Because they are known Christians, their homes and business had been deliberately destroyed and burned by ISIS.

Botrous realised that in the area where he lives, there are many potential customers but no market to serve all the families living there. After seeing this need, he decided to open a small market that sells food, hygiene items and other household products.

Having his own business helps Botrous to provide for his big family. He is very optimistic and hardworking.

“I experienced as a teenager how my father lost everything he had built up. We fled from ISIS and when we returned, everything was destroyed. Everything we had was gone. I had to gather myself and start all over again.

“I had to take responsibility and I was happy to do that. God gave me the strength to stay positive and he opened a door for me. I appreciate this and I will keep God’s gift. I am thankful for this opportunity and trust.”

Car Electrical Shop

Jurayj had a business in Mosul, Iraq. He was threatened by ISIS that if he did not pay them money (jizya), his son would be kidnapped.

During that time, dozens of Christians were robbed, abducted and killed. Christians had to pay thousands of dollars in ransom to free their families and relatives.

When the Islamists realised that Jurayj didn’t have the sum of money they asked for, they blew up his only livelihood and business.

Jurayj lost his eyesight in the explosion and after medical treatment, only one eye could be saved. He went into hiding until ISIS was pushed out of the region.

When Jurayj returned to his home, he discovered that ISIS had burnt it down. Jurayj was struggling to support his family and keep up with his medical bills when he heard he could apply for a grant to open up his own business again.

Jurayj received a grant to open up a car electrical shop, where he installs cameras and sensors for cars and provides basic mechanical services.

Jurayj’s service is unique in the Nineveh Plains, as he is the only Christian in the region running a car electrical shop.

Like most businesses in the region, Jurayj’s shop is family-run. He is currently training his son to take over the business when he retires.

“After the attack on my business, I tried many different ways to make my life … I thank God that he has shown me the right way and that I have found my destiny. I have built the foundation for my son so that he can build on what we established now.”

Jurayj plans to develop his business and expand to other cities of the Nineveh Plain.