Bishop Mar Chimon Daniel, a 32-year-old church leader in Erbil, Iraq, has 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 am 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 specializes 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.
When Open Doors first met Bishop Daniel, he was a church leader. 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 traumatized 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 centers. 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 am 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.”
Bishop Daniel knows firsthand 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 am 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 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.”
“We believe that the church is one Body; we are 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 is important to pray for us, to stand in solidarity with us, to support us financially. Without help we are unable to run the programs with young people.”
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 programs 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.”
Bishop Daniel also asks for your prayers;
Today, will you help rewrite the future for young Christians in the Middle East?
Every PHP 2,350 will help provide a month of medical care and support to three persecuted Christians.
Every PHP 4,200 will help train and disciple vulnerable young quarry workers, to strengthen their faith.
Every PHP 6,100 will help give financial security to a persecuted Christian family, through a small business loan.