Open Doors hopes Christians will one day return to Iraq, Syria

Open Doors hopes Christians will one day return to Iraq, Syria

It’s no secret that Iraq and Syria have become tough places for Christians to live in recent years. But the departure of Christians from the two countries has reached massive proportions, according to Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors U.K. and Ireland.

More than 80 percent of Iraq’s Christians have left since 2003, and nearly 50 percent of Christians have fled Syria since 2010.

Before the Iraq War, the nation was home to about 1.5 million Christians, but now — in the wake of sectarian violence and the rise of ISIS — fewer than 300,000 still reside there, according to The Christian Post.

“In Iraq since 2003, 5 out of 6 Christians have left because they have completely given up hope of a future there,” Pearce said in a recent interview with Britain’s Premier news outlet.

And in Syria, the Christians who remain fear total genocide, according to news reports earlier this year.

Unclear future

As international coalitions push ISIS back and reclaim territory, it’s unclear as to whether Christians will ever feel as though they can or want to return, Pearce told Premier. But it’s necessary for them to be able to return if they want and feel protected once they’re there.

“We can’t ask people to stay or to leave, but it is crucial that they have the opportunity to stay because this is the homeland of Christianity,” Pearce said. “Jesus visited Syria from Galilee and Paul was famously converted on the road to Damascus. In Iraq the Christian faith is so ancient that tradition holds that it was the disciple Thomas who first brought it there.”

No easy fix

But Pearce said the situation was “messy,” especially in Syria, and there aren’t any easy fixes.

“It is making sure that they are part of that discussion, part of that framework that we are considering when we are looking at different ways to intervene because there is great danger in all these debates about Sunni, Shia and Russia,” Pearce said. “There are huge parties involved, but those groups who aren’t a large population, they fall through the cracks. Not just in the country, but in our plans to support the region as well.”

She said her prayer is that Christians will one day be seen as an equal part of society again in Syria and Iraq and have “a role and opportunity to be part of reconciling and rebuilding those societies for everybody’s benefit and that Christians in that diaspora who fled will gradually gain confidence and return.” (TAB)