A Kindergarten which will care for 125 children of Batnaya, Iraq is underway as part of a massive programme devised by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to help revive the most devastated of the 13 Christian towns/villages in the Nineveh Plains. After two years of Islamist occupation, just one percent of its 997 Christian homes is still standing as the village was almost completely razed to the ground after being seized by ISIS.

The plan for Batnaya also involves restoring the Chaldean Catholic village’s parish church of St Kyriakos, repairing the nearby Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, the parish hall, library and parish house (presbytery), as well as rebuilding the Dominican Convent of St Oraha.

Director of ACN’s Projects in the Middle East, Father Andrzej Halemba described the programme as “a new and courageous step forward to secure the future of Batnaya.

“Even if the situation is not very clear, we see the importance of a sign of hope. ACN is determined to help the Christians to stay. Our task is to stand by the people who would like to come back”, he said.

More recently work got underway to repair houses, electricity, water and schools and last summer families finally started to return.

Within eight months, 300 people have come back and church leaders now think hundreds more will return after years of displacement in neighbouring towns and villages.

The extremists had smashed altars, decapitated statues and daubed blasphemous anti-Christian messages on the walls. Work on the church and chapel will involve replacement of windows, doors and roof tiles, redecoration throughout and removal of ISIS graffiti such as “Slaves of the Cross, we will kill you all. This is Islamic territory. You do not belong here.”

For many Christians, returning has meant overcoming memories of Daesh daubing homes with ‘n’ for ‘Nazarene’ (Christian) and demands to pay jizya Islamic tax, convert to Islam or face execution by the sword.

The resettlement of Batnaya is key for the recovery of the Christian presence in the Nineveh Plains.