You can help the church in the Middle East put hope at the centre
Hope is a powerful thing – something that Father Daniel from Iraq knows well. “I come from a generation which has never known peace,” he says. “I grew up in the middle of persecution, in the middle of wars. And all of this shaped me into who I am today.”
He grew up in 1990s Iraq, a country where Christians are discriminated against and targeted for their beliefs. On his 16th birthday, his family received a death threat from radical Islamic groups in Baghdad: “The threat was a paper wrapped in a bullet and dipped in blood. It was written in the threat that we need to leave in 24 hours, otherwise we are going to be killed. So we left by that night, I remember. It was very difficult for me to leave my friends, my school, my relatives, my home, my room. All of this left me feeling that I was lonely. No one was there for me.”
Father Daniel was only a young priest in Erbil when, in 2014, Islamic State invaded large parts of the country. “When I was 24 years old, ISIS came to Iraq,” he recalls. “Many Christians started to leave their homes, because they were coming and invading their houses and their towns and cities.”
But Father Daniel courageously stayed behind to take care of the believers and refugees who wouldn’t – or couldn’t – flee. “My church became a shelter for more than 1,600 families – Christian families. But at the same time, many parish members from my church, they started to migrate and leave the country, going to Jordan, to Turkey. I started my ministry with 120 families in 2014, but now we have only 30 families which remain.”
In 2015, a Spring Harvest offering helped Open Doors partners provide relief aid and trauma care to many. “Your supporters helped us from the beginning to go through all of these dark times,” Father Daniel says. “And they were the light which came to us from nowhere. They helped us through so many projects which gave hope to us, like the trauma healing training and the leadership training, and also the Bible studies and so many other activities that we’ve done with their help.”
This year, Iraq is number 14 on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. The country’s Christian population has dwindled considerably due to conflict and terrorism – more than 80 per cent have fled the country since 2003. While so-called Islamic State (IS) have lost ground, militants are still very much active, and Christians continue to face threats and persecution from them. Believers also face discrimination from government authorities.
But our sisters and brothers in Christ continue to proclaim the hope of the gospel across Iraq, raising neon crosses above their homes and churches that shine out in defiance of the darkness around them.
Despite the struggles Christians face, Father Daniel knows that the hope of Christ is at the centre of the survival of the church. “I have learned through the years that it’s not about the number of people, but it’s all about the strength of faith that they have,” he says. And, with your prayers and support, the church can continue to be a beacon of hope to the whole of the Middle East.
“We ask our brothers and sisters not to forget us and to stay in solidarity with us,” Father Daniel says. “We ask the global church to pray for us and to support us and to speak on our behalf.”
Father Daniel will be speaking at Spring Harvest this year, and you’re invited – stay tuned for dates and times. You can also find out more at the Open Doors stand – just look for the neon cross!
For more information, go to opendoorsuk.org/springharvest