A hard present—a hopeful future?

October 5, 2022 by Ryan Hamm in Persecution updates

The situation remains desperate for believers in Syria. But faithful followers of Jesus are forging ahead in hope.

One of the women opens her Bible and begins to read Psalm 1 aloud. The other women gathered in the living room of this simple apartment open their own Bibles and read along. Ferial smiles. Though this situation seems like the most ordinary thing in the world, in Syria, where Ferial lives, even the most basic Christian community feels like life-giving water.

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Like many Syrian Christians (and Syrians in general), Ferial isn’t in her home. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are 6.7 million internally displaced persons inside Syria. Ferial is one of them.

Her situation is far more challenging than the life her family was used to, and yet somehow this believer says simply: “I feel peace, inner peace.”

Why?

A deadly reality

To get to the small apartment where the circle of women gathered to read God’s Word, you would need to walk up several flights of stairs to reach the top floor. That’s where 52-year-old Ferial Jamil Labbad lives with her husband, Ghandi, and their two children, Anna Maria and Ohannes (a form of John). In Syria, it’s often possible to tell a family’s religion based on the names of its members, and that’s the case with Ferial’s family. The names of the children show this is a Christian family—a Muslim parent wouldn’t choose those biblical names for their kids.

When the war in Syria started in 2011, Ferial and Ghandi lived in Aleppo. Most Americans are familiar with Aleppo, if only because of the horrifying images that came out during the height of the civil war. The city was bombed repeatedly, and fierce fighting reduced whole sections of town to rubble.

“There were a lot of airplanes over our house,” Ferial remembers. “My children were young; I was afraid for them. We took them out of bed and hid in the bathroom.” As she recounts her story, she pauses and stares—as if seeing what she and her family went through.

They lived in an area of Aleppo that was badly hit by the war. “We lived so close to the militia groups,” she says. Both sides struck each other repeatedly with mortars and missiles.

“Our whole building was weakened,” Ferial says. “We were on the upper floor. The wall cracked in the middle, the windows were broken, there was debris. We didn’t have any bread, and the children were hungry.” Even as she describes the horrors of war and the constant threat of extremists like the Islamic State group, she still seems so strong and positive.

Even simple tasks could turn deadly. “One time my husband and children went into the market. On their way back, there was a lot of shooting—also at them. They started running; my children were crying.” Ferial says it was only the protection of God that allowed Ghandi to return home safely. “I felt that God was with us in every moment” she says.

Living conditions were terrible. “We couldn’t take a bath or take a shower as there was no water,” Ferial recalls. “Our clothes were dirty. We spent almost three months with no water. My husband told this to friends who were living in the Latakia countryside [about 2.5 hours from Aleppo]. They asked him to come, and they would find him a job.” Although it was difficult, Ghandi left his wife and children in the besieged city to work in Latakia, simply so the family could afford to live.

His friends were right: he was able to secure a job, and he rented a house. After about a month, he told his wife and children to join him. “I had to go with the kids alone,” Ferial says. “My husband couldn’t come back because of the checkpoints. I was praying to God to go with us. We left home crying, especially the children because they loved the house. We only brought some clothes with us. We said goodbye to the neighbors, as we had in mind that we would be back soon.”

It’s been eight years.

Ferial takes a picture with her students

Ferial takes a picture with her students

An uneasy safety

Moving to Latakia was something many Syrians did at that time. “It was the safest region in Syria. I was afraid because we didn’t have our own home,” Ferial says. “‘God will provide; He won’t leave us,’ my husband said.”

The first few months in Latakia were hard. “I cried a lot, and I was very upset,” Ferial says. “I fought with my husband, yelled at him. Our situation before in Aleppo was so different. In Latakia, we only have one bedroom and a living room.”

Indeed, the apartment is small for four people. All four of them share the same bedroom, and there is little space left for anything other than beds. But what is most striking about the small apartment is the lack of food in the kitchen. There are some glass pots with rice, lentils and
sugar, a quarter of a white cabbage on a plate, some pots with herbs and a bottle of oil. That’s it.

The battery on the counter is indicative of life in Syria where batteries are needed to deliver electricity. In Latakia, electricity is supplied three times a day, for only 30 minutes each time.

Although Syria isn’t in the news anymore and cameras are focused on other parts of the world, the suffering of the Syrian people continues. In areas controlled by the rebels, Christians are persecuted, and churches are closed. Though persecution for believers born into Christian families is less severe in government-controlled areas, anyone who converts from Islam to
become a follower of Jesus risks all types of persecution, especially from their family and community.

Ferial’s husband reminded her time after time that they had fled to protect their children from the war. Eventually, she calmed down. There were no bombs exploding, no danger of snipers in the streets, no jets flying over the city or extremists threatening them—for the first time in what seemed like years, Ferial felt safe.

I felt that my kids were safe here,” she says. “I started to thank God that we had taken the right step. I understood that my husband’s idea was better than mine. The children were relaxed, and they could finally sleep. I once woke up and saw them sleeping peacefully. In Aleppo they didn’t [do that]—they woke up every 10 minutes.”

Today Christians all over the world are pressured, arrested, attacked and killed for their faith.

By giving monthly, you can help provide your persecuted family with critical support and emergency relief. Consider becoming a Frontline Partner today! Click the button below to learn more.

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‘I always love it when the Bible is opened in my house’

When the family was first trying to settle in, a neighbor told Ferial about the Nazarene church nearby. “She said that I should go there, as they support people,” Ferial says. “I went, and indeed they were a great help.”

Since then, she hasn’t missed a single church service. “It feels like my mind and body are in the church now,” she says. Finding a community that cared for her helped ease the pain of leaving her home. “I wasn’t concerned with Aleppo anymore or about our financial situation.”

The church was like a hen protecting her chicks. “They took us under their wings spiritually and financially,” Ferial says. “They motivated me to love Jesus even more than I used to. We didn’t feel abandoned; they made us feel loved.”

This brought Ferial much closer to God. “They taught us to open the Bible, to read it, to live it,” she remembers. “I felt different—closer to the pattern of Jesus. God is alive in us. He is with us, taking care of us, nurturing us. I never felt as heart-touched by that before.”

The church, one of the Centers of Hope in Syria supported by Open Doors partners, helped Ferial and her family come closer to Jesus. “The children were also very happy in the church,” she says. “They felt that Jesus is with them, hugging them, loving them.”

What helps Ferial to grow in her faith is a discipleship group of women who study the Bible together and share about their lives with each other. That was the group that read Psalm 1 together. “The ladies group is an amazing group,” Ferial says. “When we meet in my house, I feel that my house is blessed. My husband changes, my kids change, the house is blessed. My children now sometimes correct me when I speak negatively. I always wish the women to do the discipleship meetings at my house because I hunger for the Bible. I always love it when the Bible is opened in my house.”

The Center of Hope also helped the family in practical ways. “They helped us with the rent, with the food and with the children’s needs,” Ferial says. “And now, as the economic situation is bad, they employed me as a schoolteacher at the Center of Hope.”

Ferial loves her job. “I love working with children so much. I like to educate them about Jesus and the Church,” she says. “I love this work, as children still can be influenced by teachers. I thank God that He put me in this position.”

Ferial teaches at her Center of Hope

Ferial teaches at her Center of Hope

‘Jesus won’t leave us’

An important investment the Center of Hope made was financially supporting Ferial’s two children in their studies and with extra tutoring. “This helped us a lot,” Ferial says.

“Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to put Anna in senior year courses. The church made us feel safe and not afraid. We weren’t scared because we have brothers in Christ who are helping us, whatever the crisis is or was. They kept us on our feet without fear; that made the difference.” Without this continuous support, their children wouldn’t have been able to finish their studies.

Ferial knows that many of you have contributed to Open Doors’ work in Syria—and thus to supporting her. “I don’t know what to say to that,” she says. “You’re very generous. I thank you very much. I thank God. He has given us those gifts. He is not leaving us.” As soon as she says this, she cries.

She stops talking for a while, gasping for breath again, drying her tears.

“Please continue to support, as the prices are now increasing daily.” She grabs a tissue and dries her eyes and cheeks. She pauses again for a while. It’s clear the pain of the past and the uncertainty of the future are never far away, even as she has confidence in God’s provision.

“In one day, there is a big difference [in the prices of basic goods]—unbelievable!” she notes. “Every day the prices go higher.” No matter how much she and her husband work, they are not able to earn enough to buy the food they need. The situation in Syria is still desperate.

And yet that doesn’t stop a spirit of generosity growing in Ferial. Through the church’s support and your prayers and gifts, she’s been able to continue walking with Jesus. Her women’s group brings the Bible into her home, and she can look ahead with hope.

“Even if we have nothing, we can try to help those who are in worse conditions,” Ferial says, tears running down her cheeks. “Some time ago I got five minutes to speak in church. I talked about giving to others, that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Every day I wake up, I pray to God, ‘Even if I have nothing, I want to give something.’ I love to give.”

With the support of her brothers and sisters in faith, Ferial feels confident about the future. “I fear nothing,” she says. “After we got to know Jesus, I see a very beautiful and good future. [Even] with all the crises—war, economic crisis, psychological crisis, electricity crisis, water crisis—I feel peace, inner peace. There’s no depression or sadness because we’re so close to Jesus. We say: Jesus won’t leave us. He will get us higher, to the summit of this life. I am sure
we’ll have a better future.”

To discover more incredible stories like Ferial’s, click here to download Open Doors’ free magazine, Presence.

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