The fighters of Islamic State (IS) are advancing in Syria. The city of Palmyra recently fell into the hands of IS. The terrorists are coming closer to Aleppo and Damascus.
As a result, the advance of IS is having an impact on the estimated one million Christians who still remain in Syria. “Fear is spreading through the Christian community,” says Open Doors worker Roger.
“Many Christians see fewer reasons to stay in their country because of the Islamic State. The Christians in Syria also saw what happened to the Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya. They saw how they were slaughtered after being kidnapped by IS. And, of course, when a city such as Mosul falls in just a day at the hands of IS, it has an impact on the people in Syria, too.”
Several Christian leaders told him that their church members don’t see much hope for a future in Syria.
But it is not only the fighters of IS who are feared by Christians. In other locations, they see other extremist groups getting closer. Even in areas where there was no previous fighting or bombing, explosions are now heard.
A pastor from Latakia, a Syrian city on the Mediterranean coast, recently said: “Every day we are going backwards. The armed militias are only 18 miles from Latakia. There is no order, no safety. The Christians want to flee the region.
“The other day, a man was kidnapped in the middle of Latakia and the kidnappers called the family asking for a large ransom for his release. The family gathered the money from all their friends and relatives (they are a wealthy family), and the kidnappers let him go. But even in Latakia the situation is dangerous. If people know that you are wealthy, they will try to kidnap you. There have been many explosions recently, even one close to the pastor’s home and one close to his daughter’s school.
“The people are afraid. When explosions happen there is nowhere to flee to because you never know where the next explosion will be.”
In parts of Damascus, Christians know that IS is very close. Recently Open Doors met with some of them.
Open Doors worker Roger says: “Of course they are afraid, but they have lived with this reality for years now, so in a way they are used to it. They have questions. They ask why God is taking them through this. But on the other hand, they said they find their strength in Him. One of them said: ‘We know that God’s presence is with us.’ They try to support each other.”
IS is also responsible for the kidnapping of more than 200 Assyrian Christians from the Khabur River region in northeastern Syria. They were taken hostage from their villages when they were overrun by Islamic terrorists at the end of February. Most of the hostages are still missing.
Syria is ranked fourth on Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians. Approximately 4 million Syrians have left the country. Inside Syria there are 6.5 million Internally Displaced Persons. Open Doors continues to work with churches and Christian partners in Syria to provide food, clothing, medical supplies and trauma counseling.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.