DID YOU EVER THINK OF CHANGING YOUR RELIGION?

Mariam* left Iraq with her husband, daughter and son. They arrived in Czechia in February 2016.

After the Finnish leg of our adventure, Tamara and I traveled to Czechia to meet a group of nine Iraqi refugees who had arrived just days before we got there. They were the first refugees to be welcomed in, belonging to a group of persecuted Christians; a Czech Christian NGO had advocated for their relocation. Here is Mariam’s story.

 Mariam stands in a field in the Czech countryside. February 2016.

Mariam stands in a field in the Czech countryside. February 2016.

We had a normal life, living in safety and security. After Daish came in, it all changed. It started changing little by little, and then it came to a point where it couldn’t be tolerated anymore. It was the worst for Christians.
Already in the past couple of years there was a dislike of Christians, and then it got worse when Daish came in. We were given 3 choices: 1. Give up our religion. 2. Get up and leave or 3. Pay a fine to live there. So we didn’t have a choice, the only choice was to get up and leave. The persecution was in the form of be killed, pay or leave.
 Mariam’s husband shows images of his wounds from ____. Czechia, February 2016.

Mariam’s husband shows images of his wounds from ____. Czechia, February 2016.

There is not a single Christian in Mosul anymore. It became impossible to live as a Christian in Mosul. It is our home, our families, our origin, and we had to just leave everything and just go. It wasn’t a voluntary choice; we had to go.
 Mariam’s son plays outside the cabin. Czechia, February 2016.

Mariam’s son plays outside the cabin. Czechia, February 2016.

The present wasn’t what was worrying me the most, it was the future. I was thinking, how are my children going to live in this country? What kind of a future are they going to have? That was the most difficult part. As soon as we came (to Czechia) and we saw that there is safety and security, I realized that my kids could finally have a future.
 Mariam and her daughter outside the cabin. Czechia, February 2016.

Mariam and her daughter outside the cabin. Czechia, February 2016.

Did you ever think of just changing your religion?

It’s impossible, the thought didn’t even cross our minds to change our religion. 
Throughout all my life, whenever I had problems I realised that God was with me. He was only a prayer away. Of course this was highlighted during the recent events of ISIS. But even before, whenever I was in a difficult situation, I would pray and he would prove to be with me, despite the difficult situation.
We believe that God is the one who helped rescue us from Iraq to come all the way to this country. It was a miracle and I am eternally thankful to God for keeping my family safe and bringing us to safety here.
 Mariam and her family. Czechia, February 2016.

Mariam and her family. Czechia, February 2016.

Was it difficult to forgive your enemies?

It wasn’t difficult to forgive because God taught us to forgive. Jesus himself said to forgive our enemies. If that is God’s commandment, then I do it willingly. Revenge belongs to the Lord and in the end, he will judge everyone and that is his job, not mine.
 

*names changed to protect people’s privacy

Photos and story by Talitha Brauer

In December 2015 I received a call from documentary filmmaker Tamara Park, asking me to accompany her on a three week trek from north to south, starting in Finland and ending in Greece. We met and interviewed Syrian and Iraqi refugees who had fled their homes in hopes of beginning a new life in Europe.

Part 4 of From North to South, a photo essay account of their stories.