‘The last three days were terrifying’—an inside account from Syria’s border

October 17, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Uncategorized

Pastor George Mousa Moushi, 45, is one of Open Doors’ partners whose church in northeastern Syria has been responding to the needs of Syrian believers, both before and during this current crisis. Because of our direct connection to him and his church, Open Doors could immediately start working to rush emergency relief and aid to Syrian and Kurdish believers impacted by the Turkish army’s recent bombings and airstrikes.

 

Qamishli, where Pastor George lives, is less than a mile from the Turkish border. The town has a mixed population of Arabs, Kurds, Syriac and Assyrians, all from different religious backgrounds; the Christians are of different denominations. Pastor George recently shared with us vivid details about the tragic situation that has unfolded over the last week and how his church is being Jesus to those around them.

When the bombs started falling

Pastor George remembers that the massive attack, launched against the Kurdish centers and neighborhoods, began at about 3 pm. Nearby villages were targeted. Usually, people are at home at that time, he explained.

[Editor’s note and update: Since the time of publication, Turkey has agreed to a five-day ceasefire. Please continue praying for Christians in this part of Syria, and that peace will continue past the ceasefire period. We will continue to monitor the situation through our partners on the ground and will update you with any new information.]

“The attack was out of the blue. We were shocked. I knew where the bombs were falling, and I called people I know from that area. I got so scared for them. My family and I were safe, thankfully, and we had faith in the Lord. But my fear was for those people I know live close to the border. I started thinking how can we get them out. We were unable to reach some people and when we contacted them, I said to leave immediately and brought them to my house. We received several families who left their homes and came to the city; some Kurds are believers and are part of our church. We asked them to come and stay in guest houses and provided supplies like rice, sugar, canned food, bread and cheese. We helped all who asked for our help in the best possible way we could.

“I tried to provide for the people who are left with nothing. For example, a mother and her three daughters and a son arrived at my house, and we started praying and asking the Lord for peace. Of course the children were afraid, especially my youngest son, but by praying we had a sense of safety.”

The attack lasted for almost 12 hours until about 3 or 4 am the next day. The next day, the shelling resumed, also at 4 pm.

“This was more vicious. More bombshells fell in neighborhoods, such as the local market, a groceries [store] and the bakery. It was terrifying. People started gathering food supplies in case all of the markets closed. The next day, Qamishli was empty, life stopped, everyone stayed in their homes.

The fear of bombs was only exacerbated by fears of ground troops and groups connected to Islamic State entering the city.

“The first three days were terrifying; everyone felt threatened, especially when rumors spread that the Turkish militias might enter the city or even groups linked to ISIS might attack our city. It was terrifying imagining what they might do, especially because of what we had heard about what ISIS had done in the nearby villages close to Afrin—when they were killing men and raping women, taking them as slaves. That was the biggest threat to us, we felt unsafe even more than during the bombings.”

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To stay or to go

Christians in Pastor George’s church gathered to pray and discuss their options.

On Saturday, Pastor George met with the people of his church. That morning, they gathered to pray and discuss their options. Some, especially families with children, wanted to leave; others wanted to stay.

“I listened to both sides, people who were afraid and those who weren’t. After we prayed and worshiped God, everyone shared their opinion. I encouraged the strong ones and tried to strengthen the scared. There was a suggestion that we would provide a bus to take people out of the city. I contacted a priest from Marmarita village in Homs who has a monastery there and he was very open to welcome us.

 “Personally, I didn’t know what to do. To be honest, I was puzzled. I felt like I wanted to split myself in half, to leave with those who were wanting to leave and stay with those who were staying. I felt that the people who were leaving, mostly women and children, were so scared; they wanted me to be with them. I felt they both needed me.”

After midnight, Pastor George finally decided to go with those who would be making the 14-hour trip to reach Homs. Because he is a pastor, he knew he might make it easier at Army checkpoints. After two days, the pastor returned to Qamishli. He says the town is 80 percent back to the way it was before the bombs started falling. But the fear is still palpable.

“You can sense fear that still something might happen to the city. The markets are not crowded like before; at the same time, there’s a sense of relief that the crisis has passed. But wounds are not healed; some homes and businesses are destroyed.

“I was visiting one of our church members, Fadi Habsouno, today when his mother said to his daughter, ‘Soon we’ll be back home.’ But the daughter quickly replied, ‘Grandma, we don’t have a home, what are we going back to?’ Fear is still there. Schools are closed, but about 80 percent of the shops have reopened.”

Responding to the needs

This month, Pastor George’s church distributed 250 coupons for food aid to people from diverse backgrounds.

Through their partnership with Open Doors, Pastor George’s small church continues to offer diverse aid and relief assistance to those who need it.

As a church, we are serving in so many domains due to expensive living costs and the huge need—we had so many refugees even before the Turkish attack. We offered food aid, especially for widows and orphans and we still do that. We visit families and do a needs assessment. We found that many families have sons and daughters in colleges, but they are dropping out because it’s so expensive. So before the Turkish attack, we were already helping those students to return to their colleges. “

The church also provides medical aid, such as medicines and surgeries, and financially supports some cancer patients. In several cases, the church has helped with rent costs and electric generators during frequent power outages.

“We do help people from all backgrounds, including Islamic. And while doing that, we try to spread the Word of God. But we help unconditionally. We want to help them as humans but also send a message.”

Pastor George asks us to pray for him, his church and his country

“I thank every church inside Syria or out who prays for us. I’m grateful for all of you because God heard and protected out city. I ask of you to keep praying for us. Pray for my family (wife Hannan and three sons, Michel, Jad and Mark). Our church is persecuted. They have closed us many times. We tried to open in a formal building, but they stopped us. We meet in a small apartment that’s not big enough for everyone. Pray we can open our church in a bigger building. Also pray for more support to keep working on the building, financially and with the government. Pray for protection for our country. We thank you for your support; you helped us. You made us feel that we have brothers and sisters outside Syria. May God bless you and protect you.”

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