Why this 7-year-old is the face of living hope in war-torn Syria

December 5, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Middle East

Wednesday, May 15, 2013.

 

It was the last day Abrham Beldoun saw his father—the day everything changed for him and his mother. He was only 18 months old when Islamic extremists kidnapped his dad. He hasn’t seen him or heard his voice since.

 

Now the child of a single parent, the energetic seven-year-old lives with his 32-year-old mother in a tiny apartment in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Abrham is one of thousands of children in the world today who each morning come face-to-face with the far-reaching impact of Christian persecution. He’s also one of millions of children around the world you can bring hope to this Christmas through your partnership with Open Doors as we help restore their communities and rebuild their lives.

 

One of our ministry partners recently visited with Abrham and his mother, Jina Georg Basmali, to listen to their story, offer comfort and pray with them. In short, to let them know they’re not forgotten this Christmas.

Jina is a dark-eyed, golden brown-haired young woman from Armenia—one of about 100,000 Armenians living in Syria today. She is also a proud mother raising her son to know and follow Jesus. For only two years, she was a wife to Rober, the man she married some eight years ago in 2011. Like many young couples, she and Rober started their marriage dreaming about having their own house and raising their children “in a good way,” she says, sitting in the living room of her home.

“I got really attached to him (Rober) finally,” she says, sharing that theirs was an arranged marriage. (In Syria, marriages are often arranged by the families). In 2012, Jina and Rober welcomed Abrham. She calls him Apo for short. “We were very, very happy with our son Apo, we were dreaming about his future. My husband and me could celebrate together only his first birthday in 2013, after that Rober was kidnapped.”

She finds it difficult to talk in any more detail about their dreams for Apo and the future. The wound runs too deep.

Watch Apo’s and Jina’s story below:

Kidnapped for his faith

Rober, an industrial spare parts salesman, was kidnapped when extremists stopped the bus he was traveling in on his way to the border city of Qamishli, about 262 miles due east from Aleppo. He was on the bus with one other Christian named Elie; the rest of the passengers were Muslims. The extremists ordered Rober and Elie off the bus.

“They knew the names of my husband and of Elie,” Jina says. “Both were taken by them.”

The men are believed to have been intentionally kidnapped because they were Christians. At the time they were abducted in 2013, Aleppo was caught in the brutal four-year battle between rebels and Syrian government forces, each controlling one half of the city. The city, Syria’s largest before the war, was full of feuding militias—some of them radical Islamists.

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All around the world in places like Syria, Central African Republic and Laos, you can bring hope and joy to children like Apo whose communities and lives have been brutally destroyed by persecution. Your gift today will help provide things like education, discipleship, food relief, safe houses for families—and so much more. Today, will you stand with the children of the persecuted Church?

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‘I have my God.’

Months after the kidnapping, both families heard no news about either man. Until finally, Elie’s relatives got a call telling them to pay 600.000 Syrian pounds ($6,000). His parents paid the ransom, securing the release of their son. Jina’s family soon met with Elie, hoping to learn about Rober. The conversation offered difficult yet also inspiring news about Rober.

“Do you see how I was beaten up?” Elie told the family. “They did that with chains and hoses and I don’t know what else. Rober, I don’t think he would survive. They told him to convert to Islam, time after time. But Rober refused and said, ‘I have my God and that’s it.’”

The man’s words are the last thing Jina and Apo have heard about Rober—over six years ago. She shares both the grief and hope she and her son have walked with since May 15, 2013.

“Every day I expect him to knock at our door. Every time I go to sleep and every time I wake up, I pray: ‘Lord, please return him back to us.’”

She is transparent about the unexpected challenge of being a single female parent to Apo: “It’s so hard to be alone. It’s hard to raise our boy alone, very difficult. People tell me that I should try to find work, but where can I leave my son?”

32-year-old Jina is candid about the challenges of being a single parent: “It’s so hard to be alone. It’s hard to raise our boy alone, very difficult. People tell me that I should try to find work, but where can I leave my son?”

‘Apo’s afraid of losing me, too.’

It’s only been in the last three years that Apo and his mother have returned to their apartment. For the first three years after Rober disappeared and during the Battle of Aleppo, they lived with Rober’s family. In Aleppo where 71 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, a single woman living on her own is often looked down upon, running the risk of harassment or even worse.

In Apo’s life, his father’s absence has played out in several ways. After Rober was taken, Apo was so traumatized he didn’t speak at all for the first three years. When he did begin talking, he had difficulty.

He also lives with the fear of losing another parent. Every night before bedtime, Apo tells his mother, “Good night, I love you so much, but don’t leave me. Tomorrow morning I will wake up and you will wake up with me, too, and you will kiss me.”

“Because he lost his father,” Jina says, “he’s afraid of losing me, too.”

 ‘To know about Jesus’

Fortunately, Apo lives in an area where Open Doors has partnered with local churches to open one of several Centers of Hope in Syria and Iraq. He and his mother regularly come to the Alliance Church’s Good Shepherd Center, which distributes food packages to the neediest families. Apo’s family is one of those.

In addition to food, the church is practically supporting the family by providing gallons of diesel gas—help that is essentially a lifeline for the young family.

“Life without that help would be suffering,” Jina explains. “If the church wouldn’t help me, that would be tyranny [I would suffer a lot].”

The Center’s various ministries and outreaches are also helping Jina and Apo find hope and peace through the church’s Friday night children’s activities and Sunday school.

“Apo often asks me, ‘When will it be Friday?’” Jina says. “When I ask him why, he says, ‘to know about Jesus.’ He loves, loves, loves being there. He loves singing with the gestures. When he comes home, I ask him what he learned and he tells me the verse they learned from the Bible.”

Smiling, Jina says she sees Rober in her young son’s words and actions. “I see very, very much of Rober in Apo’s character. He is so smart. I see it in how he is taking care of me. He says, ‘Mom you’re so compassionate towards me, I love you so much, don’t leave me.’ And when I get ill, he brings everything next to me, he takes good care of me.”

Because of the church’s provision and involvement in their lives, Apo and his mother are growing in their faith. In the midst of unimaginable grief and uncertainty, they continue to trust in Jesus. They illustrate Micah 6:8 well, showing us what it looks like to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”

“Everyone asks me how I manage as a single woman to take care of my son,” Jina says. “My faith in God is very big. In the morning when I wake up, I pray to Jesus. I thank Him that he is giving me a new, beautiful day and then I say to Him, ‘O Lord as you like, may Your will be done, O Lord, I just ask you to return my husband safe and sound.’”

Often, Apo asks his mother what she’s reading in her Bible then asks her to read it to him, too. “I try to explain it to him from what I understand. I want to raise my son righteously, that he knows what is in the Bible and to teach him to live as a Christian who loves Jesus.”

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