First he was run over by a US tank, then an invading Islamic State
militia forced him to abandon his monastery in northern Iraq.
Raeed, a monk from Qaraqosh – Iraq’s largest Christian town
– had to flee and set up a temporary monastery in a displacement camp
in Erbil. But his inspiration to help those less fortunate had been
formed earlier, during the Iraq Allied invasion of 2003.
In 2001, Raeed had felt spiritually called to become a monk; he joined four others in a normal monastery.
But his life was soon shaken up.
[During the occupation of Iraq by a US-led coalition] Raeed, on his
way to Baghdad, was talking with a fellow monk - in a taxi shared with
others. Out of nowhere came a crash and the sound of crunching metal.
The taxi had collided with a US tank, which had driven over part of the
car. The accident killed his friend and left Raeed in a coma.
He woke from the coma to realise he was the only survivor from the car.
This challenged his faith like nothing before. He could not understand
why, after choosing to commit his life to serve God, such a thing could
“But what happened [in the end] deepened my faith. It brought me back
to my calling. I’d promised to obey Jesus, and He said ‘Whoever follows
Jesus should not look back.’”
It wasn’t the only challenge to Raeed’s faith. Tragedy struck again
ten years later, when he found himself caught up in the invasion by
Islamic State. He recalls the day he fled his city:
“The sound of honking car horns disturbed the silence of our prayer
room. Beyond the street noise, there was the sound of explosions.”
Looking out of the window, he saw cars lining up to leave the city. What
he feared for months had come true: IS was approaching. Fearing for his
safety, Raeed grabbed his things and prepared to leave.
With the other monks he joined the slow-moving traffic as people fled
in panic. The drive to Erbil, normally just two hours by car, took all
Over the next few months Erbil became the safe haven for thousands of others fleeing IS,
including many Christians fearful for their lives. Raeed found a
purpose in this chaos, remembering his calling to “Follow Jesus no
matter what”: he helped set up a monastery in the middle of a refugee
camp for Christians, on the outskirts of Erbil.
The church he serves in - a portacabin in the camp – is now so busy that people have to stand in the doorway during a service.
He says he never expected a refugee camp to be his place of service
but he accepts it as his calling. He works in the camp alongside a group
of nuns, even conducting services in the place of absent priests.
He is just as you imagine a monk: his gestures are calm and silence
seems to be his natural habit. His is a welcome face among people whose
lives have been turned upside down and who face many challenges ahead.
“But I don’t have to be anything supernatural,” he says, “I just have
to be here with the people in the church because God needs me to be
here…It is all about Jesus. Jesus is the core, He is the Rock we build
on. And whatever might happen, our Rock will never disappear. He will
always be here.”