From the website Open Doors
Surrounded by chaos, hunted by IS, and with every security taken from her, Sister Hayat (30) fell on her knees, praying for God to guide her. He answered. Now, she leads a prayer movement among Iraqi refugees and is an inspiration to many.
Her face tells the story, deeply marked with the fatigue of living as a refugee. Tears slip down her cheeks as she recalls how IS forced her to leave the monastery where she had dedicated her life to God 14 years earlier. But when she speaks about God answering her prayers and using her to care for displaced youth, her expression transforms and determination replaces the tears in her dark eyes.
Until last year, Sister Hayat was living a sheltered, spiritual life in a Dominican monastery near Mosul in northern Iraq. She took care of the children in an orphanage and taught anthropology at the local university. In the summer of 2014, however, the Islamic fundamentalist group Islamic State (IS) fought their way into Mosul, forcing Hayat and her sisters to flee their beloved monastery. “When we realized that running was our only option, all the nuns packed a bag. We met in the church and prayed before kissing the floor one last time and closing the door of the monastery behind us.”
She expected to be able to return quickly, confident that someone would be able to oust IS from the town. But the military strength of IS has only grown stronger, and most of the tens of thousands of Christians that fled the Mosul area in 2014 are still stuck in refugee camps in the surrounding area. Their homes are now occupied by IS fighters or have been looted by their former neighbors.
IS also occupied the monastery that Sister Hayat had called home for more than ten years. “Sister Maria, the abbess of our monastery, was called on her cell phone by an IS commander a few days after we left. ‘Just to let you know, I’m sitting in your chair now and am running things here,’ he said, obviously trying to taunt her. He asked her where we kept our weapons since he was convinced such a strategic building would have an armory. Sister Maria guided him to the library, where she knew the Bible was. ‘There are no weapons here, just books,’ she said. The man shouted through the phone. ‘The Bible is the only weapon we use. I encourage you to start reading it,’ she said.”
Hayat learned many important lessons from Maria, who encouraged her not to give up the work for God’s Kingdom. “After we reached safety, Maria called all the nuns to a meeting that really impacted my life,” says Hayat. “She taught us three things to keep in mind during this crisis: 1) don’t look back on what has happened, 2) ask yourself what God is telling you today, and 3) go out into the world and work with people.”
Hayat took these lessons to heart and began to implement them in her life. She recalls praying for guidance and hearing clear direction from the Lord. “As clear as a bell, He spoke to me,” she recounts. “He was calling me to work with children and youth.”
She began by starting a prayer movement among the refugee youth in Erbil. “The needs of the refugees were so huge that we felt the need to begin praying in an organized way,” Hayat explains. “It started as a small seed with just a few youth gathered in the garden of a refugee center. They lit candles and prayed silently or out loud. Many prayed things like, God, have mercy upon us, or, God, please let us go back to our homes.”
Each week more people join the prayer gatherings. The garden is now filled with praying Christians every Saturday. “People pray for each other’s needs,” Hayat says. “Whole families show up asking for prayer and praying for others in return.”
Sister Hayat shares her gratitude for God’s clear presence with her. “Everything comes from God. When I go home after a long day of work, I feel He gives me new ideas in the night to work with children, youth, and older people. These thoughts cannot possibly come from me, they must be from God.”
She thanks a local partner through which Open Doors is supporting her projects. “You have been supporting the treatment of sick people and programs for the youth. You have been praying and have kept praying for us, even when the world began to forget us. We feel the power of your prayers. They are helping a lot. Please keep praying. Your prayers are the daily bread we live on.”
She specifically asks for prayer for the many Christians in Iraq who are confused, in shock, and facing constant threats to their safety. “They are without identity and feel completely lost in their own country,” she says. “They’re asking God what He wants them to do. Should they migrate? Or should they stand firmly in this country, accepting what God is doing here? Pray that God opens doors for them and shows them which one to take.”
Sister Hayat has shared in the plight of the displaced refugees, sacrificing her own comfort for the sake of others. For five months of her time in Erbil, she was in charge of a group of elderly nuns in need of daily care. “There was no place for me to sleep, but in these eventful days nobody noticed that,” she shares. “So I slept on the floor in the laundry. My bag was my pillow and I made a bed of laundry every night. The nuns never knew and I didn’t want them to know I was staying in such bad conditions because I came to serve. That was my way to express my solidarity with all the people on the run.”
We praise you, Father, for the faith and selfless service of Hayat and for the strength and perseverance You have given her in the midst of such suffering. We pray that you will continue to sustain her and those she cares for, that you will provide protection, food, and shelter in this pilgrim life. We pray that you will guide and direct those in the refugee camps as they consider the next steps and open doors for your purposes to be accomplished in their lives. We pray for an end to the reign of terror IS has inflicted on this region, an end to political unrest, and a turning of hearts now in rebellion to you that they might seek everlasting peace through saving faith in the living Christ. In the Name of Jesus the Christ, who is gathering his church from all the nations, Amen.