Rekindling the light of hope in Syria

December 5, 2019 by Open Doors in Middle East

Over the last decade, Syria’s Christian children have faced trauma, war and a staggering humanitarian crisis. Here’s how Open Doors has worked to support places of hope throughout the country.

 

Until six months ago, it was rare to go past the point we had just crossed in a taxi. Vera, a volunteer church organizer, and I were headed to a children’s soccer program being held on Saturdays. “It’s just further ahead,” she tells me as we pass the concrete rubble that used to be a building.

 

This part of Damascus was considered somewhat dangerous for passersby until recently. The suburban area east of Damascus had been held by rebels since 2011, and gunshots were regularly exchanged between rebels and government forces. The district nearest to it is Qassaa, a Christian area, as well as the road that was now leading us to the courts farther ahead.

“Before the war,” a local Christian explains, “all of these balconies would be lit up in Christmas lights.” Even last year, buildings were darkened for fear of being spotted and targeted at night during the Syrian Civil War.

“Cars that needed to pass by here had to drive at high speeds for fear of being hit,” says Nour, another program organizer. The dangers had essentially stopped the city’s young people from playing on several soccer fields.

Since the summer, however, Vera explained, the grounds were freshly renovated by the government and reopened for rent, allowing the Alliance Church of Qassaa to create a Center of Hope for children of all Christian denominations.

So now, tucked away behind all the cement was an array of fields, complete with artificial grass waiting to be played on. Vera and her team noticed that children, during the war, weren’t able to play outside in many areas and were isolated. “We’re offering them a chance to get out in the open and learn to be less tense and anxious,” she explains.

This soccer program has included 500 children, with an expected 1,500 by next year. There is participation across the denominational spectrum. Any hint of anxiety, though, seemed to be absent in the sheer joy the children from the neighborhood showed as they ran onto the field.

“I wasn’t able to play outside with my friends as much during the crisis,” 12-year-old Walid* enthusiastically exclaims, while his quieter friend Samir* says he couldn’t play outside at all.

Both boys and girls seemed equally enthusiastic about the newfound social interaction they could experience, as 14-year-old Sara* notes, with her friends nodding in agreement, that her parents “refused to even let us go out before!”

Things have changed for these children in Syria.

Places of hope for Syria

Children’s activities, food distribution, English lessons, youth activities, Alpha courses, marriage courses, discipleship for new believers, women’s meetings and soccer games. All these things have one thing in common: They’re all activities of the different Centers of Hope in Syria. By the end of April 2019, Open Doors had helped support 16 Centers around Syria.

This is one of the strategies that supporters of Open Doors have helped make possible in Syria—supporting Christians in Syria who have gone through a terrible civil war, experienced massive violence at the hands of persecutors and seen a significant population shift as many Syrians fled the country during the war.

“We as an organization help the churches to have the infrastructure in place for the activities,” says Simon,* one of the Open Doors staff members who coordinates the work of these Centers.

“Through all of these activities, the churches are offering hope to the people. Because of these activities, the churches turn into Centers of Hope.” Each of these Centers looks different because the problems in each place are different. While a school may be vital in one place, another city may be more in need of after-school religious instruction, job training, sports clubs or anything else.

Each Center is a ministry of the local church, and the local church leaders discern what’s most needed by the believers in their area—and then they set out to provide that, with the leading of the Spirit. The specifics might change, but there is always one common thread: the Hope of Jesus.

One of the Centers that started functioning recently is that of Pastor Musa in Safita. The pastor explains the importance of the Center of Hope:

“The church should be standing in the midst of society. In the end, that always works out better for the church. Because we do all kinds of things for the local community, the government has now allowed the church to use the courtyard of one of its schools for children’s activities during the summer holidays. The community has also accepted this.”

The Center of Hope is an important addition to the work of the pastor and his team. It helps the neediest people in Tartous and Safita. The church, for example, is still distributing food supplies to families.

From 10 locations, the church gives food packages to about 1,000 families, including 275 in Safita and Tartous. Among them are some Muslim families. “If we want a safer environment in Syria,” Pastor Musa explains, “we need to be good to all people. In our social aid program, we give priority to families who lost the breadwinners, often because they died in the war. In about half of the 275 families in Safita and Tartous, the head of the household is a widow, and they are the families targeted by our ministry.”

Another Center of Hope in Damsacus is run by Pastor Edward. As Christmas approaches, he hopes his church’s efforts as a place of community hope will inspire believers to live out the gospel with joy and boldness.

“Christmas is a challenging thing,” Pastor Edward says. “People want to express their joy and they want to celebrate Christmas in a very big way. Itʼs a challenge, because sometimes it really distracts people from what Christmas is really about. The people want to have parades, they want to have Santa Claus, they want to have big parties and especially now, after the difficult years.

“The government gives us all the freedom to celebrate and supports such celebrations, which is amazing,” he continues. “But the challenge is really to bring up the real message of Christmas: There is a Savior who came and who really lived among us. This message must come out. So, we will definitely try to do both—celebrate and have our special Christmas celebrations, but at the same time make sure that Jesus, the Christmas hero, is really glorified.”

The Centers of Hope in Syria are being used by God to enable His Church in Syria to show the good news of Jesus to everyone. By providing a place of stability and hope—and Christmas celebrations—to cities and communities, these Centers (and the churches that house them) are standing strong for Jesus in a place known or infamous for its decade of horrific war.

Change the life of a persecuted child this Christmas

All around the world in places like Syria, Central African Republic and Laos, you can bring joy to children whose communities and lives have been brutally destroyed by persecution. Bless your younger brothers and sisters in Christ this Christmas and generously today where the need is greatest!

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