What's Ahead for the Christians of Northern Iraq?
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ERBIL, Iraq -- It's been a big week for Christians in northern Iraq. Iraqi troops liberated several villages and towns on the way to Mosul, including Qaraqosh, the biggest Christian town on the Nineveh plains.
Now many are anxiously waiting to see what will happen next - it's a delicate balance between a horrific past and an uncertain future.
When ISIS swept through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, tens of thousands of Christian's ran for their lives.
After fleeing Mosul and surrounding villages, thousands of believers made their way to Erbil. There, about 130 families live in a complex run by the Chaldean Catholic Church. It's challenging since three families share just one apartment.
CBN News met with Ithara Assis and her three daughters, who escaped the ISIS rampage.
"We were scared and afraid and feel worried about this because we had heard that ISIS kidnapped many women and killed many women, too, so we were very afraid," she said.
They now live in safe but crowded conditions where five family members sleep in one room. As Assis and her daughters prepared a meal for us, we asked what she would say to a mother in the United States.
"We tell them that we need a quiet life," she replied. "We need a safe life for us and for our children. And we ask you to liberate Mosul to go back to our home. What we need from all people in the world, to go back to our village and living a normal life as people are living."
Father Martin, who helps lead these displaced families, noted that while they've lost their homes, they've not lost their faith.
"The big challenge is 'What's our future? Are we going to stay here? Are we going to leave? Are we going to go back?'" he told CBN News.
"Yeah, of course. Their faith is very -- maybe it was empowered by these difficulties," he continued. "They are -- every time they are praying, every time. They are also praying for ISIS (that) God have mercy on them, to make them a good people. They are praying for their -- for their enemies."
That act is just one part of their faith. Father Martin sees the Christians as the salt of Iraq.
"So we can taste like a salt, give a taste for the food. So we can give a taste for this country," he explained. "They can see that we have hope; we have charity because we are living (for) the guy we call Jesus Christ."
When Martin's church offered him the opportunity to live in San Diego with his family, he instead chose to return to Iraq and his people.
"I thought that we're called to don't escape from the problem, to face the problem and solve it if it will take a long time," he said. "That's my principle and that's what Jesus told us. He changed the whole world from Jerusalem. So we can here make a change from Iraq to the whole world."
Father Martin, Assis and thousands of others in northern Iraq want fellow Christians around the world to pray for freedom from ISIS and a return to the life they seek to regain.
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