Ever since my arrival in Iraq, I have been looking forward to visiting Internally Displaced Families. I wanted the opportunity to tell these families that I and thousands other people around the world are praying for them. Equally, I wanted to hear their stories of perseverance in their faith amidst war and their miraculous escape from territories invaded by Daesh. I expected that some of these stories were harder to tell for some than others and I was not disappointed. I had the privilege of being the first person to hear Safar's story, outside her immediate family, about her escape from Daesh in Mosul. I would never forget this honor she bestowed on me.
The thing I like most about Iraqi hospitality is their simplicity. Given that I hardly know them and visits are not planned weeks in advance, I was always received like a family member. This was the case with Safar. The translator who accompanied me called Safar about twenty minutes before our arrival and yet she put everything aside to welcome us.
Safar greeted us in front of her house and showed us to her simple living room where I had the joy of seeing the statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary enthroned in a place of honor of whom I have a big devotion. With the temperature of 39 °C (127 °F) the glass of cold water she offered us was very much appreciated. After the traditional "Ahlan wasalan", (you are most welcome in Arabic) and the tea ceremony, our expressions became serious when Safar began telling her story. Under what conditions did you arrive in Erbil?
"On June 8th, 2014, my mother, my sister and I left Mosul after we learned that Daesh were on their way into Mosul. When we got to a neighboring village called Barsika, there was no place to seek refuge so we returned to Mosul. Two days later, on June 10th, 2014 Daesh invaded Mosul. I don't know how Daesh got my phone number, but they called me on my cell phone. Perhaps it was my landlord who gave them my number telling them that I am a Christian. They told me they knew where I lived and that I should leave town or convert to Islam. We knew that it was not safe in Mosul anymore I did not trust that they would allow me to leave town. So, we decided to escape. On July 18th, 2014 as my sister and I were preparing to leave and my mother was home occupied with searching for important documents to bring along, Deash came into our house in search of us and found her instead. They tortured her for information about our whereabouts. They broke her spine and she could no longer walk. Thank God they did kill her. When my sister and I came back a few days later, we found her on the floor. Though she could not walk we managed to escape. I believe God saved us, particularly when we passed through a checkpoint. As we succeeded in getting out of a heavily controlled area, we learned that a new checkpoint had just been installed after we had gone through. It was miraculous because Daesh had our names and they knew we were on the run. We were afraid they would kill us. My mom has suffered a lot and now uses a wheelchair. Today we are safe and I thank God for his protection. The Blessed Mother saved us."
Full of emotions, Safar could not hide her tears. I offered her a tissue and I wondered whether I should have asked her to stop retelling the story seeing that it must have been painful reliving the ordeal. She told us that this was the first time that she was sharing her story, which has a beautiful end. Life moved on in Erbil and her sister married some time later. But that for her, she could not marry because she had to take care of her mother. She prayed to God to send her a husband who would be kind enough to take her in with her mother. And God did. She got married in 2016 and today they have a baby girl who is one year and three months old and the joy of their lives. "Thanks be to God, He gave us a daughter in order to forget all that we went through."
I was happy to see that normalcy was coming back and with it the joy of living. As I was leaving Safar, I thanked her for her trust and assured her of my prayers. Reliving those painful moments were difficult for her but they were not in vain. She was for me an example of courage and absolute trust in God. We parted invoking a blessing on each other.