'Tell me your dreams,' Father Daniel, an Iraqi priest in the northern city of Irbil asked the children he looks after.
The children's response was what they had grown used to seeing. To
kill, maim and seek revenge on those who had done the same to them
'On that day I was thinking if we didn't take care of our children
maybe the next generation of ISIS would come from our children. I was
really afraid of that,' he told Christian Today in an interview.
Through a series of classes and trauma clinics run through his church
in northern Iraq, he is gradually teaching the more than 350 children
who take refuge there the importance of forgiveness.
'Today if you ask me if I am really worried about the children I
would say no. I trust them. They have shown a positivity in the dealing
with so many negative cases that came from their neighbours.'
But his long-term dream is still to be realised.
At the age of 27 Father Daniel says he cannot remember any point in
his life where there was peace, growing up as he did with the Gulf War,
then being threatened by Al Qaida in Baghdad before the US-UK invasion
in 2003 and then the ISIS rampage. 'Every day, even if we hear some good
news, we are afraid that two minutes after we are going to get some bad
news,' he said. 'We don't have the hope.'
Now even with ISIS all but gone from Iraq, the residual bitterness
against other communities and the government, especially from
Kurdish-controlled Erbil, remains strong.
'There is always tension among Christians about the future,' says
Father Daniel. 'Many are uncertain about what will happen next. Are we
going to stay or are we going to leave? Of course this thinking not
coming from nothing. They have experienced negative and bad things that
started from the crisis where ISIS raided their villages and houses.
'Since then until there is no trust. They don't trust the government.
They don't trust their neighbours. When they left their houses,
villages and cities, their neighbours were the first to steal their
'So there are still tensions.'
For those tensions to subside, Christian leaders must be involved in the peacebuilding process, he says.
Father Daniel is in the UK to present a petition alongside the
Christian persecution charity Open Doors to the UK government - a
responsibility he says he bears heavily. It asks the foreign office to
protect the rights of religious minorities as both Syria and Iraq
rebuild after the trauma of ISIS' invasion. It also asks for decent
living conditions including jobs and houses, especially for returning
refugees and for faith leaders to have a prominent role in the
How Western governments should bring about these requests is another question.
Father Daniel expresses enthusiasm about the US Vice President Mike
Pence's announcement the State Department would divert aid money away
from the United Nations' programmes and straight to faith based
'I think it is a good idea to be in direct contact with the Iraqi
Christians,' he said. 'The Church can play a role that no government or
organisation in the world can do.'
The UK government is unlikely to follow the same path of antagonising
the UN as Trump's administration. But there is a frustration among
campaigners in the UK at the lack of tangible effort from the foreign
office to improve conditions for Christians in the Middle East.
Fearful of UNHCR refugee camps because they are dominated and run but
different faith groups who are hostile, Christians are excluded from
resettlement schemes in to the UK and forced to find shelter where they
can in nearby churches. Hundreds of thousands remain internally
displaced within their country but without a home.
Open Doors' petition hopes to raise awareness and funds to step in
where ministers are reluctant. Last year the global Open Doors
International network raised around $70 million for persecuted
Christians providing food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance,
safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian
literature, training and resources.
But unless the trend changes dramatically there will be few
Christians left to support. Open Doors UK is warning that 80 per cent of
Christians have left Iraq with as little as 200,000 remaining compared
to up to 2 million in the 1980s.
On top of that Christians made up between 8-10 per cent of the Syrian
population before 2011 with Aleppo the most Christian city with 400,000
believers. Now that number is around 60,000 and some estimates suggest
800,000 Christians have fled across the country.