Christians living in the ravaged city of Homs, Syria, are facing a nightmare that never seems to end. The target of a savage bombing campaign, Homs has made headlines around the world. But behind the headlines, another story is emerging. There is disturbing new evidence of intimidation and persecution of Christians in the city.
Before the Syrian uprising against the government – which has left 9,000 dead – began over a year ago, there were an estimated 40,000 Christians in Homs. Now less than 5,000 are left. Most fled because of the conflict. But many are now being driven out. Extremist Sunni Muslim groups have recently started to visit Christian families in Homs, telling them to leave, or else be killed.
“Imagine you are living in Homs in an area where the so-called freedom ?ghters are entering,” says an Open Doors source. “You hear gunshots and bombs exploding. You can imagine what effect this has. And then one night the extremists knock on your door and they tell you, ‘We are taking over this area so maybe it is time for you to leave.’
“From there events unfold rapidly: the anguished discussions with their local Christian leaders, the hurried packing and the long taxi ride through checkpoint after checkpoint.
“You can imagine the anxiety,” he continues. “They ask questions like ‘Lord, where are we heading to? What’s the future for us and our children? What will happen to our house?’ They know – or sense – the answer to that: they will lose their home. Many houses abandoned by Christians are already being occupied by those who have driven them out.”
According to the Open Doors source, even when they reach their destination, the problems don’t go away. They end up living in cramped conditions with their host family. There are no jobs, no schooling. Traumatized by their experiences, the children have difficulty sleeping.
This is the situation for an estimated 7,000 Christian families, which are approximately 35.000 persons. Adrift in a distant and unknown place, Christians are looking to Open Doors and other organizations for help.
Open Doors is responding to the pleas for help by providing emergency relief packages to displaced Syrian Christians as well as food and medical supplies where possible.
“You (Open Doors) make it possible that we can stay,” a Syrian woman said with a big smile on her face just after she received a relief package in a church building. Recently she fled from Homs to a safer part of the country because of the ongoing violence. The woman is one of the families that found a safe refuge. Churches in Syria try to help the Christian refugees from Homs with supplies. Open Doors helps them in this important relief operation.
An Open Doors worker states: “The aid will help them survive. And it will be enhanced by the other work that Open Doors is doing in Syria such as providing biblical training, trauma counseling and discipleship training. We are also continuing to provide relief for the thousands of Iraqi refugees who are in the country.
“But strengthening the church is not just about survival. One of the remarkable things about the present conflict is that the church is taking every opportunity it can to reach out to people. Open Doors is helping Syrian Christians distribute more books and more Bibles than ever before.
“In the ?rst few months of the con?ict the church as a whole was quite intimidated. But now the church sees it as an opportunity, so there are a few churches that are even more active than before, reaching out to the majority people.”
The Christians in Syria are praying together. “Definitely there is more prayer in the country,” said the Open Doors source. “They pray for stability in the country. They pray for peaceful agreements between government and opposition. They pray for their leaders. They pray for the future of Christians in Syria.”
Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller said the rest of the world must also get on their knees in prayer for the Christians in Syria, who are facing an uncertain future.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world’s most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
(For more information or to set up an interview, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email [email protected])