Since March 2011 when the Syrian war began, fighting in Syria has killed an estimated 465,000 people, has injured more than 1 million and has forced about 12 million (half of the country’s population before the war) from their homes. And yet, there are beacons of hope. While you may think that churches ceased to exist in the region, through your prayers and support throughout Syria, churches have stayed open since the war started. Led by men and women of deep faith like Father Abdallah and his wife, Aghna, several churches have even turned their buildings (or rented new spaces) into Open Doors is partnering with local churches in the Middle East to open Centers of Hope to equip and empower the Body of Christ to serve 1,000-plus families through counseling, fellowship, discipleship training, food distribution, etc. where they can feed the hungry, dress the needy, comfort the weeping and share the gospel. Below, Pastor Abdallah looks back at the last eight years and shares what’s happening now.
Father Abdallah, 47, and his wife, Aghna, remember the long days of pouring out prayers and searching for answers. Signs of war were all around, and the couple faced a life-changing choice.
They could stay in Aleppo where war was beginning to break out on all sides—or leave their church and community and move their family to safety. They had only been at the church two years, after joining the congregation in 2009.
Together, he and Aghna prayerfully made the dangerous decision to stay in Aleppo and at Alliance Church, resolved that their mission was to do the best they could to minister to their congregation of 600 members.
The Doors Stayed Open
To the outside world, it seemed as though church activity, or even a Christian presence, was altogether absent in Syria during the years of heavy fighting.
“I remember the rumors about our church closing down during the start of the crisis,” says the dad of two children, Camelia, 13, and Joseph, 11.
But Alliance Church—much like other churches across Syria—has been busy working behind the scenes to serve the congregation and community. Several have become Open Doors is partnering with local churches in the Middle East to open Centers of Hope to equip and empower the Body of Christ to serve 1,000-plus families through counseling, fellowship, discipleship training, food distribution, etc..
“We were open the whole time,” Father Abdallah says, adding that through Open Doors’ relief and support, the church was not only able to keep their doors open but also become a Center of Hope. “And we’re still being helped today.”
There were tough times during those years, he says, remembering the chaos and panic that gripped him when, at one point, heavy fighting surrounded the church. And he shares how a heavy sadness still lingers over not knowing what happened to three kidnapped church members who were taken by rebels because of their faith.
Centers of Hope
In ways we could never imagine, God has worked through the courage and love of Pastor Abdallah and Aghna, as well as other church leaders like them who also stayed, to bring much-needed signs of hope for those around them. Seeing their pastor and his family continue to serve and do their work in the church encouraged many church members and gave them the courage and determination to stay, too.
And you have been part of that work.
“Time and time again, my church talks about how thankful they are for all the help,” he says.
He recalls watching a mother of three struggle as she care for her children in the absence of her husband. He was recruited into the army despite his previous mandatory service.
Father Abdallah explains: In Syria, men are forced to join the army. Many, however, escape to other countries or remain hidden at home, suffering from depression and a lack of purpose or drive. The situation forces women to work in jobs they aren’t used to doing while they bear the brunt of raising the children.
One day, this mother came up to him, saying, “Don’t think that the little help you’re giving us does nothing. Please thank those who are helping out. It makes a difference.”
“What may appear to be small can have such a big impact on others…” Father Abdallah says, smiling.
In several areas of a country torn apart by war and conflict, school and university tuitions are being covered. A football program to get isolated children out in the open again has started. And spiritual and psychological follow up are just some of the projects that Alliance Church is offering through its Center of Hope. Even Kurdish believers from a Muslim background are being supported in their ministry in one of Aleppo’s refugee camps.
The impact is palpable in Alliance Church. Congregation members are elated over a new clinic, an addition as part of the church’s Center of Hope, and will serve a community lacking quality medical care. Currently, they are recruiting well-qualified doctors. Father Abdallah sees the clinic as a long-term project that will continue to be an ongoing and substantial benefit to his community.
“Our church feels like they’re constantly thought about, that they aren’t forgotten,” he says.
The crisis in Syria is still not over. Millions of Syrians are living as refugees in neighboring countries, and millions are displaced in their own country. We hope you’ll pray and stand with these believers and churches as they reach out to be salt and light to those around them.