04 15 Newsflashes from the Persecuted Church
Syria: Breaking News -Pray for Christians in Damascus
This morning Open Doors received a short but alarming email from one of its contacts in Damascus, Syria:
“Hello. Plz plz pray pray. Mortars, a lot of them, on the schools in Babtouma.”
Bab Touma is the old city of Damascus. This is an historic part of Damascus where many Christians live. There are also several churches in the neighborhood.
The Associated Press reported this morning that mortar rounds landed near schools in the Christian areas, killing one child and wounding 41 other people. One of the mortars struck a school and another round exploded near a church.
Syria: Sister Silvia Distributing Clothing for Easter in Aleppo
Sister Silvia (not her real name) has the looks of a typical nun, if someone like that exists. She is small, her clothes are modest and in plain colors. Her voice is soft and almost shy. That shyness changes in the blink of an eye when she starts talking about the people she is working with in Aleppo, Syria. “Nowadays sometimes people leave God and their faith because of poverty and the needs they have. I want to stand with them and protect them.
“In Aleppo people are going days, weeks and sometimes months without electricity and running water. They have huge needs. I cannot go to them and just tell ‘God is love.’ When people suffer and children are dying, you need to do something. I need to help in my little way. My fear is that Christian families will lose their feelings of value, especially the girls and women. When factories stopped working hundreds of people ended up without work. And that means hundreds of families are affected. We visit families in Aleppo and ask what they need. We give them small salaries, so that they can buy what they really need.”
Sister Silvia started working a few years ago with two other sisters in Aleppo. Through sales they raised the money they used to help people. Then the war broke out over three years ago and the need to help more people increased rapidly.
Sister Silvia is involved in education for 900 children in Aleppo and in practical help for needy families. She is also organizing a special project to provide clothing for children for the major Christian holy days.
Last Christmas over 1,000 children received a new set of clothes.
“For Easter 2014 we want to reach out to 1,300 children in Aleppo, but also in the cities of Damascus and Hasakah,” she says. We were afraid the Free Syrian Army or ISIS (a jihadist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) would take the clothes while they were transported to the cities. But we just received a call that the clothes arrived safely.”
This is one of the many projects Open Doors supports in Syria. “Through your (Open Doors) help we put a smile on the children’s faces,” Sister Silvia says. “After the distribution last Christmas our doorbell rang. At the door was a small child with a plate of chocolates as a thank you for the gift she got. She also gave us a beautiful card which said ‘thank you because you can draw a smile on our face.’ We give this help to Christian and Muslim families. Muslims come and they say ‘we cannot imagine Christians are doing this.’ We can often pray for them. I feel this is the way we need to work. We don’t preach, but we try to live Christ. People have a lot of questions. Instead of hatred we bring a message of love and forgiveness. They were touched by our help, that Christians are helping Muslims.”
Iraq: Christians Observing Easter, but Dangers Exist
Easter is a significant celebration for Christians in Iraq. Two Iraqi believers share how they will celebrate the resurrection of our Savior this week. Riham lives in the north. She is in her twenties and lives with her mother. Sana is in her thirties and also lives in the north, together with her husband and young child. Iraq is the one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians; ranked No. 4 on Open Doors’ 2014 World Watch List.
How do you celebrate Easter? Will there be anything different this year than other years?
Sana: The first thing we do is we go to church to hear the liturgy and pray. After that we celebrate it with family and relatives. The tradition of the Easter celebration is the same each year, but the patterns of our lives are different each year from the year before. It’s has become more difficult to live here year after year, especially for Christians. Not for all, but for most of them.
Riham: We usually celebrate Easter by going to church. Then we return back home to eat a special lunch. After that we start visiting relatives to say “happy Easter.” This visiting continues for two more days.
For us as a family, we miss our father this year. He passed away in 2013 and the tradition in Iraq is that a family which loses a member doesn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, and doesn’t go to parties like weddings for one year after the death of a beloved one. Therefore we will celebrate Easter this year for the first time after our father has died, but it will not be the same without our dad. But this is life and we will always have our heavenly Father.
How is the celebration accepted in your Muslim surroundings? Can you celebrate Easter openly?
Sana: Yes, it is accepted in our area in the north. We can celebrate Easter openly within our churches.
Riham: We can celebrate Christmas or Easter “freely” here, but for us as a family living in a Muslim neighborhood, we don’t want to stand out by decorating the outside of the house or putting up a cross, so we head to the Christian area to go to church and do other activities.
What is the most important message in Easter for you? Do you have a message for the brothers and sisters around the world?
Sana: The Easter message is important for me. My prayer is that all the Christians can celebrate it in health and safety, away from the wars and fighting. I ask the Lord Jesus Christ on this day to bring peace in all countries where a war is going on and ask all our brothers and sisters of the worldwide church to pray for the people living in these countries.
Riham: The most important message of Easter is that Jesus has risen from death and there will be a day that He comes back again. To the worldwide church I want to say that Jesus is coming again, so be prepared. Also, I want to ask you to pray for those who are in bad situations or in persecuted countries like ours. Some are not experiencing the joy of such celebrations because of their difficult situation.
(For more information or to set up interviews, call Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email email@example.com. The Open Doors USA website is www.OpenDoorsUSA.org)