The last 10 years have nearly killed the church in Syria—and they need our help

August 19, 2020 by Christopher Summers in Impact

After nine years of civil war, the Christians of northern Syria were exhausted. The war has left the region in shambles—economic turmoil seems to never end, and former ISIS fighters occupy camps scattered throughout the north of Syria.

 

And then, on October 9, 2019, Turkey invaded, bombing cities and sparking fears among the estimated 50,000 Christians in northern Syria that ISIS would rise again. When Turkey stopped their offensive, church leaders hoped it would be a time to rebuild and refocus.

 

Until the coronavirus pandemic swept into the region in early 2020.

It was like adding insult to injury. The Christian community in northern Syria has faced ISIS, years of war, an aggressive Turkish military and now … a global pandemic?

featured in presence magazineMany Christians have left Syria because of the war. Before the conflict, there were a little over 2 million Christians in the country—now it’s estimated under 750,000 remain. It’s a community stretched to the brink, and you’d be forgiven if you thought the future of Christianity in Syria might be in doubt.

Thank God, you’d be wrong.

Like everywhere in Syria, Pastor George Moushi’s church in Qamishli has seen many of its members leave. During a recent service, 70 people sat on white plastic chairs (covered with soft cushions to make them more comfortable) and listened attentively to the man in the front. But the 70 people there were not necessarily the same ones who occupied those seats a few years ago.

Watch Pastor George’s story below. 

“The seats that became empty were filled with others again,” Pastor George says. The sad thing is that “several equipped persons left—several persons who at some point were leaders.” He starts naming them, one by one—he gets to a dozen church workers who left.

But Pastor George hasn’t given up. “Of course, God did not leave us,” he says. “A lot of people accepted Christ and were added to the church. Although the war was so awful, God turned ashes into beauty—a lot of people came to Christ.”

Pastor George’s church is a place of hope—and what God is doing in northern Syria, despite everything, is incredible.

Finding hope in the brokenness

Pastor George sits in rubble caused by recent conflict in Syria.

Qamishli is home to more churches, but Pastor George’s is the only church meeting in a non-official church building. When he and his wife decided to start a church, they began by opening their own home. “We started to have our meetings,” he remembers. “In the beginning, only two or three people came. The church grew and the leadership of the Alliance Church in Syria asked us to start a church. We bought land for a church building—and we are building now in that place.”

Even without a church building, Pastor George’s church has become a source of peace and hope in Qamishli. As people in northern Syria experienced urgent needs because of displacement from ISIS and the terrible economic situation, the church started—through the gifts of Open Doors’ faithful supporters—helping the neediest families. “We helped with relief, with all kinds of humanitarian help, but also, we supported students,” Pastor George says. “For some families, the church arranged housing, [and] one family was supported to flee to another city in the country.”

Because of this help, the doors were opened wide for the gospel. All help was given unconditionally to the people. “But we offered always the message of Jesus too, depending how open the door was. We didn’t only want to fill the stomach of the people,” Pastor George says. “Through our programs, we tried to build relationships with the people that opened doors for them to know Jesus. The best hope we can offer is the hope that Jesus Christ offers.”

The church saw growth because of this—even though so many Christians had to flee during the war. Pastor George even witnessed Muslims who accepted Jesus as Lord as a result of the crisis. “The war made people think about their life,” he says. “They thought, ‘Where will I go after my death?’ The war made people from a Muslim background question their faith. When the church started visiting them, they began to understand about God’s love. We show them that God is love and that God loves people. Some came to faith, and they come to church.”

Now, 25–30 percent of the 70 people who fill Pastor George’s apartment church are from a Muslim background. “Islam forbids a Muslim to become a Christian,” Pastor George says. “It even says that a person should be killed. It is a danger to become a Christian. The new believers know this, but it’s OK for them. They are not afraid to be killed. A lot of them openly declared their faith, [even though] they know they might lose their inheritance, their properties, they might be threatened—and some are. Some of the new believers were threatened with death, but, thank God, they were not killed.

Stand with Christians in Iraq and Syria

Christians like Pastor George—and the believers he serves—need help. They’ve dealt with war, ISIS, daily persecution and now, COVID-19. Many Christians are in desperate need. Can you help? Give a gift today to let your sisters and brothers know they are not alone.

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Taking care of people—in Jesus’ name

Because of these experiences, Pastor George’s church was ready to respond when Turkey sent troops into northern Syria in late 2019—and again when the coronavirus pandemic took root in Syria.

During the Turkish incursion, through the help and prayers of Open Doors supporters, Pastor George was able to minister on the ground immediately, even as bombs fell on his city. “We visited these families and encouraged them, some of those we offered cash support and give them coupons for food,” he remembers. “Some of the displaced families came to Qamishli, [and] they only had the clothes they were wearing when they fled. It was so cold in the camps where they first stayed. We helped them with warm clothes like jackets, socks—and some children we helped with shoes, as they came without. How could we show the love of God to them when we wouldn’t meet their most basic needs? In the letter of James, we learn that we should give people food to eat, that we should clothe them.”

After the Turkish incursion, Pastor George’s original plan for 2020 was to reduce the emergency food distribution and give only to the poorest and neediest. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit Syria, the church saw a need it knew it had to fill.

“At first, we stopped distributing relief packages,” Pastor George says. “But when we saw the increased need, we restarted the distribution. We gave people food and washing detergent coupons. Our church saw that now was a time to stand by the people, support them and show Jesus’ love in difficult times.

“We’re trying to help as much as we can with the means we have,” he told Open Doors last spring. “People are hungry. Some called me crying because they have no food for their kids and families. Especially displaced families who have no relatives here, so they can’t even ask to borrow money from anyone, just to keep them alive until this crisis ends. We’re in dire need of funds to support a larger number of families.”

Pray for the Middle East

Open Doors is in the midst of a seven-year prayer campaign for Christians who have endured so much in the Middle East. Join God's family in prayer!

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The pastor knows he only can do this important work through the support of many Christians around the world. “Thank you for your help to make that possible,” he says to Open Doors supporters. “Please continue to help us in this. There is a lot of poverty; the fall of the Syrian [currency] affects everyone. Thank you for helping [Christians] to remain in Syria. Thank you for helping us. Please continue to help us.”

When asked what to pray for Syria, the pastor says: “Pray the people stay firm in Jesus. Pray that the economy will recover. The war isn’t over yet. Pray that Christians will stay in the country. Pray that their basic needs are met. I often see people searching the garbage bins for food in the street; the situation is bad. Pray that there will be job opportunities for the people.

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