“The situation in Syria is getting worse. The Christians who have a way out of the country are leaving. But, unlike the time after the fall of Saddam Hussein when hundreds of thousands Christians fled Iraq, the surrounding countries have closed their doors to Syrians,” a Syrian contact explained to Open Doors.
Despite the turmoil, Open Doors is continuing to work in Syria through the local churches. An Open Doors spokesman reported, “We continue to support relief operation to refugees from the most affected cities. Many of the refugees are in and around Damascus and it still is quite easy to reach and help them. So the relief work we support runs as scheduled.”
For the Syrian Christians who want to flee the country, however, nothing is easy now; there are not many possibilities left. They are trying to find countries with a certain level of freedom of religion to which they can flee, but Jordan closed its borders for them. The spokesman explained, “Only Lebanon is still a way out. Whoever has the money and the ability to leave is leaving, especially from Aleppo. One contact person said that there are rumors in the country that the number of Christians dropped with hundreds of thousands fleeing the country.”
Of course, it is difficult to verify these numbers due to the current situation in the country. Of the approximately 22.5 million people who populate Syria, Open Doors estimated in 2011 that the number of Christians exceeded 1.6 million. “We don’t believe hundreds of thousands of Christians left the country,” the Open Doors spokesman clarified in response to the rumors. “Many stay in the country because they can’t go anywhere. Only the wealthier ones can go to Lebanon. Amongst the internally displaced people, there are a number of Christians, but they also certainly don’t number hundreds of thousands.”
According to the Syrian contact, the Christian leaders are “still standing strong….The pastors and leaders want to stay for now and want to encourage their congregations and flock.” Though some have received advice to flee the country from relatives who have already emigrated, “they are refusing, wanting to stay and help others,” he notes
“Our contacts are all still standing in place,” the Open Doors spokesman said. “But who knows if things will change,” the Syrian contact added. “People say to me that they are suffering from lack of gasoline and fuel in Aleppo and electricity goes off a lot, sometimes for days in Aleppo and Damascus, as well as in many other areas. Recently there have been problems in the Christian area Bab Toma, in the old city center of the capital, Damascus. Some of the opposition fighters tried to hide with their weapons in the alleys of this neighborhood. There are no longer safe places within Syrian where believers can escape the turmoil.”
The good news in this civil war-like situation is that the churches are reaching out to others and serving faithfully. The message of the gospel is spreading as people are more receptive to it during this time of crisis. “The people of the churches do a lot of home visits, give medical support, distribute food and other relief products, and sometimes help refugees with paying the rent. Many refugees have left everything behind and are ashamed of the pain and suffering they go through.”
“In spite of the delicate situation in the country we could continue our work with the churches in Syria,” the Open Doors spokesman says. “We could support churches for their summer camps for children and could help them with their discipleship program. But we also continued supporting several churches that distribute food and other relief articles.”
Father, as we learn about the desperate situation in Syria, we come along-side our brothers and sisters in Syria in praying for peace to return to this war-torn nation. Thank You for the faithfulness of Your church there; we pray for constant strength from Your Spirit to continue ministering to the needs of the people and sharing the gospel. We pray especially for the church leaders to have godly discernment as they respond to the current situation. As we see the devastation, we call on You to turn what has been meant for bad into good for Your church there, and pray that the healing message of the gospel might flow like a mighty river over this land. In the name of Jesus our Peacemaker, Amen.