Giving Thanks in Front of a Broken Altar in Iraq

This is what’s left of the King Jesus Church in Sinjar City, northern Iraq.

The altar was broken by ISIS. Crosses shattered into pieces. Pages ripped from Bibles and hymnals, then scattered across the floor. There are bullet casings everywhere you step.

Standing in a place like this, it’s hard to find reason to give thanks. But it can be found, if you look closely enough.

ISIS destroyed this church building, yes. But that wasn’t their real goal. Their aim was to destroy the people who worshiped here—to wipe out their faith. Their identity. Their very existence.

And in that, they have utterly failed.

Because if someone’s faith is real, it can’t be contained inside a building. It lives on, even when altars and icons are destroyed.

We have met so many people who were persecuted by ISIS. Christians, Yazidis, Muslims. And everywhere we go, we are struck by the resilience of their faith. Far from erasing their faith or identity, their suffering has motivated them to go deeper into their faith, deeper into their culture.

They have become even more committed to the very thing ISIS tried to destroy.

That’s the kind of person I want to be. That’s the kind of people you want to be. It’s that same resolve that compels you to be a people of love, people who go into the darkest places where no one else will go, to love those no one else will love.

As I look at this broken altar, these broken icons, I give thanks.

I give thanks for the people who worshiped here—whose faith still endures.

I give thanks for all the people of different faiths who were persecuted by ISIS—but not erased. I see them rebuilding their lives in defiance of hate, and I am grateful.

I give thanks for you and the way you come alongside our friends who have suffered so much. I give thanks for the resolve you’ve shown to open your doors and your hearts to welcome others.

Please keep that love going. Please keep going into the hard places with us.

Your love and your faith are so much bigger than a building—that’s what I am thankful for.