President Bashar al-Assad
Even though the public threat of ISIS has largely subsided, Christians in Syria still grapple with daily persecution that may become violent. In areas where Islamic extremist groups are active, leaders of historical church communities may be targeted simply because they are more visible. But leaders of other Christian groups are also vulnerable because they may be more active in evangelism. Church buildings are completely destroyed in many parts of Syria where Islamic extremists had control (or continue to maintain control). Where extremists control territory, any public expression of faith is dangerous. Additionally, every Christian in Syria lives with the constant realization that Islamic extremists have not necessarily left Syria—they’ve just retreated into the shadows, and they may return to public life again in the future.
As the Christian population of Syria has diminished due to the civil war, more and more Syrian Christians come from a Muslim background. This makes them additional targets—the government wants to ensure there is no social upheaval caused by religious conversion, and families and communities may reject, punish or even attack Christians who convert from Islam.
“Jesus is everything to me. When I had no one, He was with me, my brother, my companion, my best friend. I talk to Him all the time, I rely on Him, Jesus truly saved my life. When I wanted to kill myself, He pulled me back and gave me hope for the future. When things go wrong, I escape to Jesus. I know He has a good plan for my life.”
Violence against Christians decreased in Syria, which is news worth celebrating. And yet, the country remains high on the World Watch List—the pressure on all Christians is extreme, and church leaders are targeted for abuse and persecution. Christians who leave Islam continue to bear a large burden placed on them by government, society and their own families.
In the parts of Syria where Islamic extremists maintain control, Christians remain under significant pressure. ISIS has attacked Christian targets in the last several years, and tensions are high. Places where Turkey has supplied fighters and military support after its invasion in late 2019 are also dangerous for Christians. And finally, Christians who leave Islam to follow Jesus are at risk throughout Syria.
Open Doors works with the local church in Syria through strengthening its leadership and helping the Syrian church be a beacon of hope in Syria. Open Doors supports literature distribution, biblical discipleship and training, trauma counseling and the establishment of community centers (Centers of Hope) that provide services to Syrian Christians and their neighbors.