An Iraqi Christian girl displaced by ISIS terrorism has shared how God used the horrific experience for good and allowed it to make her a more "patient and forgiving person".
According to a report from persecution watchdog Open Doors, Athraa, along with her family, was forced to flee Quaraqosh, Iraq, after ISIS overtook the town in 2014, like the rest of those in the Christian village of about 60,000. Athraa said of the day they fled: "I remember that I wasn't worrying too much that day. We didn't think the situation would last long, we didn't even take our identity papers."
However, the situation turned out to be far worse than Athraa expected: "The first months were a disaster. We lived in many different places. We lived in a wedding hall and a church garden. We ended up in a tent in a sports center. It was a really difficult."
She and her family of nine spent the brutal summer months sleeping in a small tent, where food was poor and water was lacking. Two years later, Athraa and her family have are still not able to return home, as it remains under ISIS control.
Despite the "terrible" situation she has endured, Athraa said she believes God used it for good: She now lives with her family in a house rented by the local church, and shared how the church has changed her life.
"After the displacement I was bored, there was nothing to do, so I went to church more often. Soon I got involved with a Bible study group that gathers twice a week."
Aathra continued, "I discovered that every line in the Bible tells us something. But what I like best is when we as a small group celebrate Holy Communion with the priest in the way the people in the time of Jesus did. We have a piece of bread and share that with each other.
"It is something wonderful. It gives me patience to continue my life, to see things from a bigger perspective."
While her family hopes to someday return home, they are confident in God's perfect plan.
"We don't have to spend our time asking ourselves why this happened to us. God doesn't want to hurt us," she said. "He is speaking with us and we need to hear Him and trust Him. I learned that it's good to spend these days in prayer. IS took our land and our money, but we still have our lives and we have to live them like God wants us to."
She hopes to share her newfound faith with those around her. "I want to assist the people in my community to rediscover the richness of faith and I want to be there for them when they struggle," she said. "I found a peace in my heart, peace in my life," she says. "God has made me a more patient and forgiving person. I know that God is with me and that's the most important thing."
Iraq is no. 2 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution, and has received the maximum score in the violence category.