For the fifth time, Syrian Christians are preparing for Christmas during the violent civil war that started in March 2011. Some Syrians will be celebrating on December 25, while the Armenian and Orthodox Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus on Euphony (or Three Kings Day), January 6 and 7. The holiday takes on an even deeper meaning for Syrian Christians as they not only celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God, but also share in His suffering.
Life in Aleppo is a continual paradox. Exploding bombs and a newborn baby’s cries, water and electricity cuts and new Christian worship CDs, desperation to flee the city and determination to stay—two sides of the daily reality in the second largest city of Syria.
The three rockets that exploded about six months ago in a Christian area in Aleppo and killed several Christians was a turning point for many Christians. The rockets wiped out complete buildings in one blast. The huge blasts were different from the grenades to which the inhabitants of the city had become accustomed. These attacks shattered any remaining sense of security and sparked a new exodus from Aleppo.
George* is among the many who have fled the city. “Before the war, there were some 250,000 Christians in the city,” he reports. “Before April 11, 2015 there remained some 85,000. Now, the estimates are that only 35,000 to 40,000 are still in the city.” The current situation has not encouraged Christians to stay.
For four years, he and his wife stayed, and he remained very active in his church. Even when his wife got pregnant, they remained in their beloved city. In the wake of the recent waves of violence and the birth of their first child, however, George and his wife decided they couldn’t stay any longer. “For me and my wife, we could have continued. But when I saw my baby, I couldn’t anymore.” Pastors throughout the country are struggling to replace active members like George, thousands of whom have fled their homes. George’s family moved to Lebanon, joining over one million Syrian refugees who have flooded into the small country.
Sarah* has remained in Syria, but recently moved from Aleppo to another place in the country. She lived in a part of Aleppo that had come under the control of different opposition groups. “I lived close to such a frontline,” Sarah says. “We could hear the rebels shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ (Allah is great). When I needed to cross a road, I had to run because of the snipers. In the end, our home was completely destroyed because of shelling by the opposition. I cried for two days. I was fighting with God because of this. ‘Lord, I have been working for years in this city for You and now you took all I have.’ But God made me see that it wasn’t Him taking all I had, it was evil; people are evil. For my dad it was very hard. ‘I worked for fifty years for this home,’ he said.”
Though Sarah and her family left their home out of necessity, they have remained in Syria and visit Aleppo often. “God gave me something to do, so it is not the time to leave,” she says.
Pastor Samuel* is among the Christians who have chosen to remain in Aleppo. “We’re in a dark tunnel,” he says of life in Aleppo. “Life is dangerous. We’re living in a tense situation. The rebels are not far away; we’re in a government area and the rebels shoot rockets and bombs here. Our only protection is from the Lord. When I visit someone, I am always aware that it might be my last journey on earth.”
“Last summer, we had 26 days without water,” he continues. “Many more days without electricity. Since the end of March 2015, we have been without internet.” He tells of exorbitant price hikes, long lines at stores, unemployment and the particular suffering of children and the elderly. Many families are in desperate financial circumstances and, “they cannot leave the country. Many of these people are only supported by the church. The positive thing,” notes Pastor Samuel, “is that I see those people coming to church.” Pastor Samuel admits that, “… only a miracle from God can solve the situation.”
Pastor Samuel has been called by God to remain in Aleppo. Sarah is determined to stay in Syria and shares a glimmer of hope: a friend and Christian singer who recently recorded a worship CD in Arabic. The title song, “The Salvation Cross,” was written by a Muslim who seems very close to becoming a Christian. “God has given me something to do on earth. I have something to do, so it is not the time to leave.” George and his wife fled to Lebanon to protect their newborn child. Each of these three Christians has been led by God to respond to the violence in Aleppo in a different way. Please pray for them and the tens of thousands of others like them. Pray that they might know the peace of the Prince of Peace in their hearts when they celebrate the birth of Christ this year, and that He came to this world of darkness out of His profound love for us. Pray that the Light of the World might enlighten their hearts and minds and give them comfort.
*Names changed for security reasons
Father God, Christ our Savior, and Holy Spirit, we bow before You this Christmas season bringing before Your presence our praise and adoration, our love and obedience, our very lives. And today, we bring before You our Syrian brothers and sisters who have suffered so long now. We come before You knowing that You have heard their cries even clearer than we have, and have answered in seen and unseen ways. We call on you to flood them with Your peace that passes all understanding and that You, the Light of the World, will enlighten their hearts and minds through Your Word and comfort their weary and wounded souls. Whether they have remained in Syria or have fled to other nations, give them hope and cause the light of Christ to shine through their lives. In the Name of Jesus, who has indeed won the victory over sin and death, who rules in heaven over earth’s kings and princes and who is interceding daily on our behalf, Amen.