*representative image used
Pastor Samuel* has left Aleppo. After five years of war, a time of constant pressure and violence, the church leader who has been partnering with Open Doors throughout this time was forced to leave his city after ISIS threatened to kill him and destroy his church. He now serves the displaced Syrian church in a Western country.
“December 25th was the climax,” the pastor shares. “ISIS fighters threatened me in person. I myself, my house and my church would not be safe if I’d stayed. That moment I realized I couldn’t take it anymore, I could no longer swim against the stream. I had survived being kidnapped, I had survived five years of war, but this was it. I had to leave.”
Days after he left, Pastor Samuel’s house and his church where attacked with bombs and set on fire. “The violence is changing. Originally, the main threat was bombardments on the city—general violence that could hit anyone. Over the last few months, the threat has changed. Islamic groups now deliberately target key leaders, especially Christians. They suffer most now.”
After he left Aleppo, the Syrian church leader was invited to visit a group of refugees that has found refuge in a Western country. We were able to speak to the pastor in this country. Upon his request, the location is not shared.
By leaving Aleppo for good, Pastor Samuel is following the 80-90 percent of his congregation that has already left. “It’s mostly the elderly who still there, simply because it’s hard for them to leave. They try to hold onto their apartments and other assets; most of their children have left as well.”
From a distance he is still ministering to his Aleppo congregation through social media and telephone. “But we have to be careful. We don’t use any names in our conversations or any specific locations, for the lines may be insecure. That’s an effect of the war—you lose your trust in people.”
However, is was the threats on his life that made him decide to move. Pastor Samuel has felt God’s guidance all the time over the last few months. “It felt like a miracle that I was invited to this country. I am able now to serve more than 30 refugee families. We continue to be church here. 65 kids visit Sunday school each week. On a Sunday morning, some 250 people attend the services.”
Even though he left the Middle East, it sometimes still feels like Syria for Pastor Samuel. “Every day, all day I am working with my people, trying to link them to the local community here and ministering to them. I thank God that He gave me this new opportunity.”
If he is granted permission to keep working among the refugees he is serving now, Pastor Samuel will do so. If not, he plans to move back to the Middle East and find a place there to serve the displaced Syrian Christian community.
What to say of the future of the church in Syria? The pastor shares his worries. “First of all, the church belongs to the Lord, not to us. That being said, it’s not going to be easy… the majority of the Christians have already left Syria, meaning that the remaining part will be a very small minority in a Muslim-dominated country. I am glad I can put these situations into God’s hands because I really don’t know what is going to remain of Christianity in Syria.”
*Names changed for security reasons