“It is a Nightmare,” says Priest from Syria
“The situation for Christians and other minorities is getting worse and worse since the army pulled out; it is a nightmare,” a priest reported to Open Doors. In accordance with an agreement with the Arab league, Syrian forces withdrew troops from Homs, an important city in western Syria, is the central link between the interior cities of Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. The priest, whose identity is protected for his own safety, shares that, “Armed civilians have their own checkpoints. Christians in general, but particularly women, are threatened in the streets, at checkpoints and everywhere they go. Many of them are not leaving their homes anymore.”
Internationally, there is a lot of skepticism about whether or not the Syrian government really will call a halt to the violence per their agreement with the Arab league. “The skepticism is very understandable,” an Open Doors observer for the Middle East says, “but other than giving this initiative a fair chance, the alternatives are bleak. I am sure President Bashar Assads’s sincerity will be tested soon, if not already, by new protesters taking the streets.” Analysts widely agree on the complexity of the situation in Syria, though the Syrian government hedges with the explanation that the protests are backed by foreign forces who want to bring instability from an Islamic, sectarian perspective. “I believe elements of this explanation are true,” the Open Doors observer states, “but there is more below the surface and this could further disrupt the regional instability.”
“For several Christians, the situation is alarming,” the Open Doors worker says. “We learned that armed people, who are believed to be Sunni Muslim fanatics, have their own checkpoints in the streets of Homs. They stop people and check for their ID’s. A believer shared that to other than Sunni Muslims they say ‘this is our land.’ One believer reported two Christians being killed during past week.”
In a desperate call for prayer, a Syrian Christian says, “Please be praying for the situation here. The fanatics will take advantage of the situation and things will get worse. Syria needs more prayers, now please!”
Syria, listed as #38 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the top 50 countries of the world where the persecution of Christian is most severe. In Syria the majority of the people are Muslim. Misconceptions about Christianity are widespread as there is a sizable Christian minority (1.9 million). The Syrian Christian community is not hidden or secret, having been protected under the secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad. However, Muslim background believers face many problems, mostly from family and friends. Since March 2011 extremist foreign fighters have been living and operating in Syria threatening Christians and other minority groups.
For the registered church, the situation is stable and they are respected in the society. However, these churches often do not evangelize in Syria because of political pressure and agreements with other religious leaders. As long as Christians do not disturb communal harmony or threaten the government, they are tolerated and have freedom of worship. However, the secret police know everything and the government has to deal with strong fundamental, Islamic groups who are against the Christians. Christians fear what will happen to them if the government changes and Sunni Muslims take over. A pastor astutely observes, “This country is not for Christians anymore.”
We pray, Lord, for the Christians, Your church, in Syria. Thank You for their faithfulness and for the measure of freedom they have received in recent years. As they move into a time of greater persecution, we pray that You will uphold and strengthen them, that You will grant them wisdom and discernment as they consider when to speak and when to be silent, when to remain and when to flee. Bring to mind Your Word in particular ways when they are unable to gather together for worship and teaching as they have in the past. We pray especially for former Muslims that they will live under Your hand of protection and that they will have many opportunities to share Your gospel among family and neighbors. Amen