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January 2018 Persecution Magazine

Miracle of Hope in the

Miracle of Hope in the Midst of ISIS The miraculous return of Christina to her family continues to bring hope to Christians rebuilding their lives in Iraq. By Claire Evans Rapturous joy paints the faces of the poverty-stricken parents, lighting up a room of expressionless white walls. Though blind, the dark sunglasses of the father can hardly hide his happiness. The mother’s delight is indescribable, her wide smile signaling the end of three years of uncertainty. Between them sits the source of their happiness: a 6-year-old girl named Christina, dressed in her customary polka dots and wearing a large cross necklace. In June 2014, hundreds of ISIS militants raced across Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, intent on erasing all signs of Christianity from Iraq. The Nineveh Plains is the historic home of Iraq’s Christians; the target of ISIS’s famed brutality. Most residents fled, but not everyone was able to escape the fury of ISIS. The elderly, frail, and disabled were unable to quickly flee and thus stayed behind, hoping that ISIS would show them some mercy. Such was the case with Christina’s family. The youngest in a family of nine, Christina is her family’s treasure. Her name, which means “follower of Christ,” was a symbol of her family’s faith. Her father, Khader, is blind; her mother, Aida, is slightly disabled. Christina was only 3-years-old when ISIS swept through Qaraqosh, images of which forever remain seared in the memory of her family and friends. Her older siblings left when the other residents fled, but Christina and her parents remained in the city. Her mother Aida recalled, “My husband, a blind man, was sick and unable to escape. I sent my older children to run away with people in town. I stayed behind with my husband and younger daughter, Christina, and I thought she would be safe, no matter how cruel they were.” However, it quickly became apparent that ISIS would show no mercy to those who remained behind. Just a few weeks after the militants seized Qaraqosh, on August 22, Girls taken captive by ISIS often disappeared, their fate unknown. 2014, the militants rounded up the town’s remaining Christians under the guise of conducting medical checkups. Instead, all of their possessions were confiscated. Money, cell phones, ID cards, jewelry—whatever it was, ISIS took it. The frightened Christians were then shuttled onto a bus. Aida placed Christina onto her lap, holding her close in an attempt to shield her from whatever horrors ISIS had in store for them. Then, without explanation, a militant walked up to Aida, picked up Christina, and walked away. One eyewitness, Kafah, later explained to local media: “I saw a bearded ISIS guy carry off a girl, about 3-years-old, called Christina. Her mother started to scream and cry. [She said,] ‘Poor girl, what has she done wrong? For the sake of Allah, for the sake of Muhammad, what do you worship? Give her to me; I’m nursing and she’ll die if she’s not with [me].’” She added that Aida started to follow the man, who then “drew his machine gun and said, ‘Go quickly to the bus. If you come close to this little girl, you will be slaughtered. We will slaughter you.’” Dejected, Aida returned to her seat in tears, unsure of what would happen to Christina and the other young women taken from the bus. One of the hostages later managed to find a cellphone and report that the captives, including Christina, were taken to Mosul. Meanwhile, the families remaining on the bus were driven far from their homes and 26 PERSECU ION.org JANUARY 2018 INTERNATIONAL CHRISTIAN CONCERN

Top Joy radiates from Christina’s face as she sits with her family upon her return. Bottom ICC provides aid to Christina’s family after her return. PERSECU ION.org INTERNATIONAL CHRISTIAN CONCERN released. Christina’s family was completely devastated. After all, girls taken captive by ISIS often disappeared, their fate unknown. Over the next few years, the family would hear rumors about Christina. They heard that Christina was living with a Muslim family in Mosul. But after two years, the rumors faded away. Aida would wander from camp to camp, asking if anyone knew what happened to her little girl. Posters reading “Lost Girl” and featuring Christina’s photo were scattered throughout the displacement camp her family called home. At one point, Christina’s father thought he heard the voice of a young girl. He recalled, “I heard, ‘Papa! Papa!’ I called, ‘Christina! Christina!’ but she didn’t reply.” The hope of Christina’s family for her eventual return was an inspiration to other displaced Christians. Their hope was memorialized in a stage play written and performed by Qaraqosh Christians, Christina’s former neighbors. In one scene, a girl portraying Christina wanders onto the stage as another character cries out, “Christina, where have you been, beautiful? Your mother is looking for you. She looked for you everywhere. Where did they take you, beautiful?” Three years after ISIS took Christina from her family, that question was finally answered. Iraqi Special Forces found her in Mosul in June 2017, just days before her sixth birthday. Joyous ululation echoed along the dirt street as a huge crowd sang and danced to welcome Christina home. Her mother cried tears of joy as she hugged her child closely; her father beamed with happiness. Aida noted, “The best day of my life is when Christina came back.” Christina moved to sit between her parents, and contentedly said, “I’m with mum and dad.” Although her family has yet to return home, the emotion of that moment continues each day. Thankfulness fills the entire family; the haunted expressions previously worn by Christina’s parents are replaced with radiating joy. Her family never lost hope during the three years of Christina’s disappearance, and that hope continues to provide strength to their community. 27