In 2017, our local partners and churches in Iraq plan to distribute more than 50,000 Bibles, children’s Bibles and Bible study books among Iraqi Christians. We joined Bible distributor Sajjad* on one of his distribution trips in northern Iraq. We handed out Bibles to Christian youth. “Through these books, I understand who Jesus is. I know Him better now,” 13-year-old Fadia said.
Sajjad navigates his beat-up minivan down the bumpy roads of Iraqi Kurdistan, on his way to the Christian village of Mala Barwan. For months, it had been completely dry in northern Iraq, reducing the hills and the fields into a brown, dusty and seemingly lifeless state of hibernation.
While taking a turn from the highway, Sajjad explains today’s mission. Today, 200 young children from Christian families will receive a coloring book with Bible stories. Older children will receive a book with 27 Bible stories. Many of them are not used to reading the Bible themselves, Sajjad says. “The purpose of distributing these books is that children and youth will understand better what God has to tell them in the Bible.”
Through a local partner, Open Doors supports this project in order to strengthen and build on the Body of Christ in Iraq. Many Christian families who used to live on Iraq’s Nineveh Plain lost all their belongings—including their Christian literature—when they had to flee IS in 2014.
“That is why the demand for Bibles and other Christian materials is still high,” Sajjad says. “What we do with these books is sowing the seeds of the gospel in their lives. My dream is that, within 15 years, the seeds will have grown up and these children will be mature believers and have a living relationship with Christ. We will need a lot of prayer to make that happen.”
He stresses that distributing Christian books is only effective when embedded in a solid discipleship strategy. “That is why we also train teachers and Sunday school volunteers, to help them communicate the gospel to young people.”
As Sajjad arrives in Mala Barwan a large group of children, along with the village priests and a group of church volunteers, are already waiting. Sajjad has done this before. While a bunch of teenagers unload the boxes of Bibles from the van, he sets up a table and lets the children form an orderly line. Like a well-oiled machine, every child steps up and receives one or two biblical books appropriate for their current educational and spiritual level.
“We really appreciate the books for the children,” Father Farid, a village priest, says. “After they have received them, we will take some time to pray with the children for Open Doors. It is great to see that your organization and the church really work together to educate children on the Word of God.”
In Father Farid’s experience, the Children’s Bibles distributed today support the church’s Sunday school ministry. “We already give them Bible lessons. Because these books offer the same stories but with pictures, the children understand them better. Sunday school is now an audiovisual experience.”
Dani, 13, is just one of the dozens of children receiving a book today. “These books help me understand what Jesus did on earth before he was crucified,” Dani says. “He helped the children, He healed the sick and He made the blind see.”
The ride home later that day feels different. The emptiness of the van creates a different sound as it rattles and shakes over the bumpy road. While driving, Sajjad shares how he became involved in Christian book distribution in Iraq decades ago.
“As a child, I used to read a lot. God told me in a dream that He wanted me to go and work in Bible distribution. That is why I’m doing this work with passion, especially among children. I dream that in twenty years, what we have sowed today by bringing them the gospel, will have grown up into a beautiful garden of flowers.”
As Sajjad drives, he looks over the desolate landscape. Just a few weeks ago, it started raining again and the first drops of water brought the promise of new life back to these lands – the first glimpses of green are visible on the hills.
A new season is coming.
*Name changed for security reasons