So far (as of April 20), Syria has reported 39 cases and two deaths from coronavirus, all in or around Damascus, the country’s capital. A health system almost completely destroyed by war, especially in Syria’s northern region, adds to the fear of the further spread of COVID-19 in the country of 18.5 million people. Hundreds of medical facilities have been bombed; half the hospitals and health centers are functioning only partially.
The Associated Press reports that 70 percent of medical workers have fled the country. Medical personnel still in the region have resorted to making protective gear out of garbage bags. The territory has been cut off from outside aid, including U.N. shipments that used to arrive from Iraq but were vetoed by Syrian government ally Russia.
Part of the response to the pandemic includes a daily 16-hour curfew. From 2 pm until 6 am the next morning, no one is allowed out of their house; only a limited number of people go out at all to buy essentials.
“The police patrol the streets to ensure the curfew is observed,” Pastor George says.
Staying connected and praying together through COVID-19
Like everywhere else, churches in Syria were forced to find a new way to meet as services are not allowed right now. Pastor George’s church stays connected through WhatsApp. He even created a WhatsApp group that includes almost all the church members.
“We have three meetings every week, every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 pm. We have devotions and we praise and worship together,” he says. “Everyone prays and shares their thoughts and feelings. At the same time, we share our prayer requests with each other and exchange the latest news.
“Many are encouraged that the church cares for them and keeps in touch with them.”
Pastor George also regularly calls and visits church members to check to see if they need anything. He goes to great lengths—and, at times, great personal risk—to reach out to his church and community. “Because I’m a pastor, I can move more freely in the city, so I can provide for the needy families if they need something they can’t get themselves.”
The need is not just material. Many people are weary and afraid, he says. He prays with them and visits those who are ill and discouraged to comfort them.
“That way, I try to keep in touch with the people.”
Pastor George asks us to pray with him and his church, as well as the rest of the world: “Pray that the Lord would intervene to lift the epidemic away from our country, Syria, and off the world. We also pray for more help and support for needy people. We pray that this crisis would end as soon as possible to save many people from hunger.”