Refugee survived war-torn Iraq — and lockdown restrictions

halla mahler iraqi refugee
Halla in arms of her mother in Iraq

By Michael Ashcraft –

To escape war-torn Iraq, eight-year-old Halla Mahler and her family fled to Jordan, then Lebanon and finally to the United States, where they got their green cards.

“It was a very traumatic time,” she told God Reports. “I don’t remember much.”

After Covid, Halla, 48, her husband and two children are “closer to Jesus than ever.” They attend a church in Newbury Park that insisted it was an essential service and flouted bans on church services imposed by government authorities.

Halla Mahler
Halla, her husband and kids

The masks and distancing rules killed the spirit at her former church, she says. She felt so distant, so out of touch with the community that was supposed to be a warm and embracing culture of support.

Halla was born into a small minority of Iraqi Christians who trace their beginnings back to Saint Thomas and have dwindled to about 500,000 in recent years. As a minority among hostile neighbors, her family feared for their lives constantly.

Halla was never allowed to play over at a friend’s house or in the streets because the threat was constant.

“My parents were afraid we would be abducted,” she says. “Historically in the Middle East there’s always been that battle.”

Raised at the time of the Iran-Iraq War, Halla never passed a day without sirens. She lived in Baghdad and day and night, awake or asleep, ran for cover whenever the sirens blared to the dugout beneath the house her father had dug. It was a tunnel of sorts that served as a bomb shelter.

Halla Mahler family in Iraq
Halla and her family in Iraq

One day, an Iranian jet flew over undetected by radar, so no sirens warned the people of its coming. Suddenly, Halla remembers, there was an explosion in the sky and debris fell on their roof. She doesn’t know if the Iranian jet was hit or if it was something else.

“They didn’t care if they bombed homes,” Halla says. “If they saw lights, they would bomb it.”

The dangers of the war and the dangers of terrorists weren’t the only hazards. The family feared Saddam Hussein himself, who had the custom of personally visiting schools and asking students what their parents thought of him. If the kids unwittingly responded unfavorably, a death squad was dispatched immediately.

Halla Mahler Thousand Oaks CA
Halla, left back, poses with her sons and dignitaries in Thousand Oaks.

“My parents would sit us down every day and coach us on what to say or not say if Saddam Hussein visited our school that day,” Halla remembers. “If we didn’t say exactly the right thing, we would be assassinated.”

Her father always talked about Jesus and told stories of Jesus. He had visited the United States in 1979, and an uncle living in America agreed to apply for green cards for the family.

Dad hired smugglers to get him, his wife and four kids safely out of Iraq and into Jordan, she says. From there, they made their way to Lebanon and finally to Chula Vista, California, where dad opened a convenience store and Mom was a homemaker.

It was bewildering for Halla. “At first, it was scary because I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know anybody,” she says. “I was made fun of because of the way I looked.”

refugees from Iraq
Halla’s father in Iraq

Of course, she learned English, made friends, and completed the shift to American culture. She’s glad she did because there’s freedom in America.

“It’s the best thing ever. We have our freedom,” she says. “We have our constitution, whereas other countries don’t have that. You don’t have any rights, if the government wants to come in and seize your property, you have no say.

“I’m grateful for this country and want to give back in service.”

Halla attended Southwestern Community College, completed her bachelor’s at San Diego State University and then got a master’s in social work from USC. She had been working at the DA’s office with victims of crime and wanted to help make an impact with people who face the repercussions of mental illness.

She worked with victims of violent crimes, homeless on Skid Row and foster children. She still remembers the glowing post cards thanking her for her work with kids who suffered horrible abuse.

She worked with with Department of Mental Health to draw disaster response plans as senior disaster analyst.

In 2006, she met the fireman who became her husband in 2010. The couple has two kids and lives in Newbury Park, where they attend Godspeak after being put off by a multitude of restrictions at her previous church during Covid.

Godspeak achieved nationwide notoriety when Pastor Rob McCoy held services despite threats from local authorities to arrest him during lockdowns. McCoy wondered why BLM protestors were allowed to march, riot, vandalize and rob while Christians were shut out from church during the pandemic.

The switch to a dynamic church has been transformative.

“I have read the entire New Testament and started to see in Revelation what is happening right before my eyes,” she says. “I’ve never been closer to Jesus than I am now.”

If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here

About the writer of this article: Pastor Michael Ashcraft is also a financial professional in California.


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