As members of St George's Church in Bartella entered their church for
the first time since ISIS was driven out, they immediately began to
As they crossed the threshold to see utter devastation – crosses
broken, windows smashed and the charred remains of the alter – they
began to sing, which turned to prayer. Later, they wept.
lies just nine miles from Mosul – ISIS' last stronghold in Iraq, and
the subject of a major offensive to reclaim territory from the jihadist
More than 100,000 people have now fled the city as the battle intensifies, and Christian international relief organisation Samaritan's Purse is
working on the front lines to serve those in the midst of crisis.
Partners are on the ground in the refugee camps and outside of them;
providing food for 30,000 families a day along with emergency shelters
Because although villages like Bartella have now been liberated from Islamic State, it remains unsafe for them to return home.
Executive director of Samaritan's Purse, Simon Barrington, just
returned from a visit to Bartella. In an interview with Christian Today,
he described visiting the St George's Church with its priest, Father
Benham, and four sisters of the congregation.
"As we walked through the door of the church, it was incredible,"
Barrington said. "I was very moved to see their response. They
immediately started singing, then started to pray, and then started to
cry – in that order. It was their first time back in that place of worship – no one had
worshipped there for two years – and their immediate response among the
ashes and the debris, with broken crosses and a noose hanging from the
gates of the church, was to worship God."
Barrington said he asked the Iraqis what they were singing. "We were
singing songs of hope," they replied. "We were praying to God to rebuild
this church, and to come back here and recreate this Christian
ISIS overran Bartella on 6 August 2014, and 5,000 families were forced
to flee with just three hours' notice. In October this year the Iraqi
army reclaimed the village, but devastation remains in the jihadis'
It's described as a ghost town; many buildings have been completely
flattened and those that remain have been burnt out and looted. Other
churches, too, have been destroyed. The Mart Shmony Syriac Orthodox
Church in Bartella is left charred by a fire. When church leaders
returned, inside the church pews were overturned, and hymn books and
Bibles had been torn apart and thrown on the floor.
Across Bartella, some explosive devices have yet to be defused, making it impossible for residents to return home.
And yet, church leaders have pledged to return and rebuild the village.
"I was amazed by their determination and commitment to the people of
Barterlla and the surrounding region; of their commitment to be a
continued witness in that area," Barrington said of Father Benham and
"There are huge risks for them in doing that, but they were very determined."
Some Iraqi Christians have said they are too afraid to return home
after years of sectarian tension, but Barrington said Father Benham's
determination to return home was a "prophetic statement" to the wider
"It was leaders going back in and saying we will face up to this pain
and hurt, to this devastation, and we will lead people through," he
"There's a deep sense of community – people don't want to return
until the churches function because church is at the heart of their
community. Father Benham and the leaders of his congregation said once
churches are rebuilt, the people will return."