On a November night in the city of Mosul, Iraq, Mazen Asaqa's father offered him perhaps the best compliment he could ever receive.
"I'm proud of you," Mundhir told Asaqa. "I couldn't have asked for a better son."
Those are some of the last words he ever heard from his father. The next day, Asaqa's father was kidnapped by the fundamentalist group Islamic State of Iraq for his belief in the Christian faith.
Five days later, Asaqa helped a forensic unit identify his father's body.
Never miss a local story.
Despite the tragedy, he remembers fondly his father's words.
"I sleep comfortably about that," he said Thursday in the Providence Presbytery.
Asaqa is the seventh generation in his family to be a Presbyterian, the faith his father fought and died for. For more than a week, he has been visiting Rock Hill and talking to classes in Winthrop University and the surrounding area about the Christian faith, how sometimes people take the right to practice their faith for granted and about his experiences in Mosul.
His discussion, "Life as a Christian in My Home Country: Iraq," is free and open to the public. It will take place at 7:30 tonight in Barnes Recital Hall.
It's presented through the Presbyterian Peacemaking program, said Larry Richards, a retired Presbyterian minister who helped coordinate the effort.
"It recognizes that all Christians are called to make peace," he said of the program. "God put us here to do something better. It takes many, many forms."
Asaqa said through efforts like this program he hopes more refugees will be helped.
"I hope it motivates people to send more stethoscopes, pencils and books [for example] overseas," he said.
In Iraq, Asaqa, 36, attended the University of Mosul and later worked as a youth leader and coordinator in the city's Presbyterian church. He also worked as a doctor in the church's clinic.
His father was a leader in the church, which had been established in 1840.
In July 2006, his father received a phone call from one of the fundamentalists. Their demands were to close the church and to pay them $20,000. They also threatened to come after Asaqa.
"The problem with these people is they try to implant their own ideas," he said. "They have an agenda. They would love to see everyone following their own thoughts and religion. The weapon is in their hands and they have the freedom to use it. They don't start by negotiations or asking."
The group gave his father two weeks to answer. During that time, Asaqa talked to his father about what they would do.
"I said, 'Dad, I can pack and leave any time. But are you going to answer their requests by closing the church?' " he remembered.
His father refused.
"He told me, 'I've been there 40 years, and I'm not closing it now. I could not go to sleep thinking how the money went to weapons, explosives and killing more innocent people,' " Asaqa said.
Hearing about people being killed for their Christian belief isn't uncommon in Mosul, he said. Still, after his father's death, he could no longer see a reason to stay, especially with the group attempting to kidnap him as well.
"I was not going to be able to go to the church," he said. "I was not going to be able to work, and I didn't want to hurt my family. My presence at that point created a risk or danger for someone else."
He moved briefly to the country of Georgia, where he applied for refugee status. He officially settled in Detroit in 2009 with his mother, Awitif, and sisters Maha, 28, and Rand, 27. A third sister, Rana, 35, stayed in Iraq with her husband.
Two uncles and an aunt already lived in the United States.
Asaqa has applied for residency at hospitals in Detroit and will find out in March where he can continue the last part of his medical studies. He also teaches biology as a supplementary instructor at a community college.
For a person coming to a new country and starting over, Asaqa said part of the ultimate success is getting his family established.
But his ultimate success is following in his father's footsteps and standing up for his faith.
"Their ultimate goal was to corrupt my life," he said, referring to the fundamentalist group. "But ... I had success as a doctor there, and I'm a doctor here. I had a ministry there, and I have a ministry here. ...Technically, they failed at their goal.
"The ultimate success is not accepting that. No one is going to tell me how to worship my God."
Want to go?
What: Discussion from Mazen Asaqa about his struggles in the Christian faith in Mosul, Iraq
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Barnes Recital Hall at Winthrop University
Cost: Free and open to the public