By Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis
Sister Hayat, a 30-year-old Iraqi nun, lived a quiet life of devotion in a Dominican monastery near Mosul, Iraq. She helped care for children in an orphanage and also taught anthropology at a local university. Then ISIS jihadists overran the city.
“When we realized that running was our only option, all the nuns packed a bag,” she said. “We met in the church and prayed, before kissing the floor one last time and closing the door of the monastery behind us.”
She is now helping refugees in the city of Erbil, where she spent the last five months caring for elderly nuns, according to a report by World Watch Monitor.
A few days after fleeing, an ISIS commander called the abbess, Sister Maria, to taunt her. “Just to let you know, I’m sitting in your chair now and am running things here,” he said.
Then he demanded to know where the sisters kept their weapons; he couldn’t conceive that such an important building in the community would be without an armory, Hayat told World Watch Monitor.
Sister Maria guided him to the library.
But his careful search didn’t turn up what he was looking for and he called her back, noticeably upset.
“There are no weapons here, just books,” the man shouted through the phone.
She explained the Bible is the sword of the Spirit and is able to change a person from the inside. “The Bible is the only weapon we use,” the abbess told him. “I encourage you to start reading it.”
Hayat hoped to return to the monastery soon, but the Islamic extremists have entrenched themselves there and have been able to resist American bombing and the Iraqi military.
Tens of thousands of Christians are in a similar predicament. Their homes are now occupied by ISIS soldiers or Muslims neighbors whom they trusted.
Today, Hayat is fatigued from hardships in the refugee camp. When asked about fleeing from her beloved monastery, she can’t hold back the tears. It was the place where she consecrated herself to God 14 years earlier.
Since arriving at the camp, she’s voluntarily endured hardships to express solidarity with others who have fled.
At first, “there was no place for me to sleep, but in these eventful days nobody noticed that,” she said. “So I used the laundry room to sleep on the floor. 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 a bad condition because I came to serve. That was my way to express my solidarity with all the people on the run.”
Hayat started a prayer meeting among the youth in the camp.
“The needs of the refugees were so huge that we felt the need to begin praying in an organized way,” she said. “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!’