Decades of war make Syria especially vulnerable
In a country devastated by nine years of war—and ranked No. 11 on the 2020 World Watch List—the spread of coronavirus is especially threatening. Ravaged hospitals and tightly packed internal displacement camps are likely to accelerate infection, doctors and aid workers recently said. Syrians are very likely to be some of the “most vulnerable” to the spread of the virus globally,” says Rachel Sider, policy and advocacy adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council. “What’s very clear is they’re nowhere near ready for an outbreak.”
Elias*, one of Open Doors’ ministry partners in Syria, explains further how Syria’s history increases vulnerability: “For years, many Syrians were not able to consume healthy food. Doctors in Syria see that many more are vulnerable for the seasonal diseases because of the lack of nourishment.”
Even though these factors impact all segments of society, our field points out that Syria’s Christian communities are at a greater disadvantage. The state of emergency could be used by the state to crack down harder on churches, especially house churches. The lack of technology also factors in. In under-resourced remote areas, Christians are not connected to the internet and cannot hold online meetings. And even for Christians with internet access, many churches are not able to broadcast services—increasing the sense of isolation Christians already feel as followers of Jesus in an Islamic society still plagued by the presence of ISIS fighters. Pray for isolated believers in Syria and against potential government crackdowns on house churches. Pray that Christian communities would not be excluded from any form of government relief or assistance. Pray for wisdom and strength for church leaders, especially leaders of Centers of Hope as they provide ministry and services
Churches as salt and light
While the need is great in these World Watch List countries, we also know that the Church there is also responding to others in crisis and sharing the gospel with others in this unprecedented time—following the historic path of the Church that ministered during epidemics.
As one of our country managers recently shared, “We have the opportunity to strengthen the salt and light role of the persecuted church.”
A recent story from Central Asia shows us how a local church is being salt and light to those around it.
To encourage people who are “blocked in four walls,” local Christians developed a social media channel called “Films for the Soul and Learning.” On it, they show Christian films and short videos. They continue to hear how this channel is helping people both spiritually and emotionally.
A woman living in the city alone and isolated shared with the church: “I was so depressed because I was isolated in my house. The only connection I have with the world is through my cellphone, but the signal is sometimes so poor. I received the link to this Christian channel and started to watch the Christian films.
“They were and are very inspiring for me to trust God more in this situation. Thanks to God for what you’re sharing! I feel much better, and I shared the link also with my friends, relatives and neighbors. It is very helpful! Glory to God! Thank you for this joy and encouragement in such a hard time! God bless you!”
In Iran, Christians are choosing to follow Jesus and serve their country. A house church leader there recently shared: “We are doing all we can to provide food packages for the elderly and vulnerable who are unable to go out these days or for those who have lost their job in these difficult circumstances. Throughout the year, we shared the Good News of Christ with our neighbors and community; now we have a chance to be Good News.”
For these Christians, even in the midst of a pandemic that has changed lives around the world, living out their faith means they continue to follow Jesus, even in the additional challenge of coronavirus. Will we have the courage to follow their examples? Will we stand with them in prayer? Let this extraordinary time drive us to our knees and see how we can walk in the paths already laid out for us by our persecuted brothers and sisters—joyfully and hopefully seeking after Christ and serving our neighbor, no matter the cost.