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Bishop Mar Chimon Daniel, a 32-year-old church leader in Erbil, Iraq, had a vision.

“Our existence is threatened. Many of the young people are only thinking of leaving Iraq,” he says. “My big dream is that the youth will stay. I’m working hard to preserve our existence.”

This is a bold dream – after decades of war, political instability, economic ruin and the cruelty of the Islamic State group, the idea of remaining in Iraq is unthinkable for many people.

But God specialises in bold dreams. And the future of the Church in Iraq depends on Iraqi youth deciding to stay to live for Jesus, even when it’s costly.

“The youth are our today and our future” says Bishop Daniel.

When Open Doors first met Bishop Daniel, he was a priest. But becoming a bishop who now oversees multiple churches in Iraq hasn’t changed his warm love for the younger generations in his country – or his love for the emotionally wounded and traumatised people.

“Most of our activities in Iraq focus on bringing the hope of Christ to the lives of our young people,” he says. “So we have [opened], and will open more, trauma healing centres. We also offer vocational training for young people to increase the possibility of finding job opportunities In Iraq. In addition to that, we’re doing leadership training; we are empowering our young leaders.”

During that training, participants learn “about the basic leadership teaching that is given by our Lord Jesus Christ,” Bishop Daniel explains. “[They learn] what leadership means related to our faith and how to become a healthy leader. One of the core things we focus on is bringing new leaders from the younger generation to the community so that they can demand their rights, fight for their community and fix or solve the many issues that our community is facing.”

It’s a huge priority for Bishop Daniel as he leads his church in Iraq. “I’m asking all the [leaders in our churches] to focus more on working with youth, to bring them back to the Church,” he says. “I think the youth [are] our today and our future. If we don’t have them today, we will not have any future for the Church. We want to strengthen the bond and the relationship that the youth have with the Church, and also the Church with the youth.”

A role in rebuilding Iraq
Bishop Daniel knows first-hand about the temptation to leave Iraq. He’s been offered several positions in other countries, but he’s always decided to stay. “I decided to have a role in rebuilding this country,” he says. “I’m an example for all the young people. I always tell them, before you decide to leave the country, just try to think about this. You are going to lose so many things.”

He feels called to make sure staying in the country seems like a real option to the future generation of Iraq’s Church. “[Iraqi youth] have more opportunities outside [of Iraq],” he admits. “That’s why we are trying very hard to give them better opportunities here.”

This means he’s doing things as a bishop that he likely never dreamed would be the role of the Church in Iraq. “We are doing things … the government should be doing, for the sake of encouraging our youth to stay,” he explains. “The Church is giving opportunities to study for free, in the colleges, the universities. The Church is talking with officials to find job opportunities. We also put pressure on the officials to make laws that will preserve the rights of the Christians in this country.”

He also sees the negative side of life for Iraqi youth who have chosen to leave their home country. “They are forgetting their roots and their identity,” the bishop says. “In the new countries, they’re having an identity crisis. They’re forgetting their faith because of Western culture. It’s so easy for anyone to melt into that big culture. They forget their core values, their Christian values and become part of the new community following [it] with everything it’s telling them.”

The salt and light of Iraq
These results won’t see immediate changes – but that’s why Open Doors partners with leaders like Bishop Daniel and others who are equipped to meet immediate needs and strengthen the Church long term.

Years ago, when he was a priest, Bishop Daniel started on this journey that he describes as “full of challenges”. Although people were watching for quick results, he kept telling them to be patient. “When I became a bishop, I started to see some of the fruit [of our efforts],” he says. “The life of the youth has been transformed in a good way. Most of them became more responsible, and more committed to the Church. They shared this with their families and friends. It was so good to see our youth be more responsible and more resilient – and also for them to have a vision.

“They started to share that vision with their community. Whenever they believe in their vision, they can make it. That was one of the most important things for our youth to learn in this journey. I thank God that now most of them have found what their vision is and how they can implement their vision in their community.”

And this ties back to Bishop Daniel’s dream for Iraq. “I dream that [Iraq’s Christian youth] accomplish their dreams [and] that they will be more resilient so that they can work on [preserving] their existence,” he says. “Now our existence is threatened. We are working so hard to preserve it. My big dream is that the youth will stay, that they become the salt and light of this country. We really need them in the future to lead our community into a better place.”

Will we help?
Of course, the Iraqi Church can’t do this on its own. But it’s also a mark of hope because the Iraqi Church is just one of many around the world – God’s Church, the Body that He has promised will never be overcome by the gates of hell (Matt. 16:18).

“We are facing a crisis: Are you going to help us?” he asks Christians around the world. “The existence of the [Iraqi] Church depends on our brothers and sisters in the Western world. Will you support us or not?

“We believe that the Church is one Body; we’re in this together. We [in Iraq] are fighting on the frontlines on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Western world. That is why it’s important to pray for us, to stand in solidarity with us, to support us financially. Without help we’re unable to run the programmes with young people.”

Bishop Daniel also asks for your prayers:

  • “I ask your prayer for the Christian leaders of Iraq so that God would give them a better vision to work together,” he says. “And also, I ask you to pray for young leaders from our churches, so that God would give them wisdom to lead His flock into a better place.
  • “Please pray also for the leaders of Iraq, so that they can see why it’s so important for Iraq to have Christians staying in this country, because we still have faith that even if we are so few, we have a role that we can rebuild this country.
  • “I also ask prayer for myself, that God give me health and strength so that I can give [more and provide] a better ministry to my people. I’m working hard, and sometimes I fear [I will] burn out. Please pray that this will be a year of accomplishments on the physical level and spiritual level.”

Thanks to your gifts and prayers, Open Doors has stood alongside the church in Iraq since the days of the Islamic State group. Our vision is the same as Bishop Daniel’s – and what Open Doors founder Brother Andrew always said: to “strengthen what remains” (Rev. 3:2).

“I thank you for the help you are giving here in Iraq,” Bishop Daniel says. “With your help, we can accomplish programmes that are essential for our community. I always say: ‘We might forget the people who persecuted us, but we will not forget who supported us.’”

If you feel called to stand with the younger generation of the Church people, will you give a gift today? Click here to help persecuted young believers.

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Date published: 14/01/2024

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