Four years ago the Syrian city of Daraa unexpectedly made history. Achmad (his real name protected for security reasons) was 20 years old when the first protests against the government began in his city. That has led to four years of a bloody civil war. Now 24 years old, his family still lives in Daraa, while he lives abroad. He is one of the more than almost 3.8 million Syrians that have left the country. That includes approximately 40 percent (500,000) from the Christian community. Open Doors continues to work with churches and Christian partners inside Syria to provide food, clothes, medical supplies, trauma counseling and hope for the future. The following is an interview with Achmad.
Tell about the beginning of the protests four years ago.
Achmad: “Before March 2011 Daraa was a peaceful place and an interesting place to live. It was peaceful and the situation was good. Christians lived in some fear, with the Islamic threat all around us, but we led a simple and peaceful life. One day after the revolution in Egypt, Syrians in Daraa started to think why not revolt against the government? Some youth wanted a strike, saying ‘we want the president (Bashar Assad) out.’ First this all went peaceful; they only shouted and screamed. Not that the government should go, but only for freedom. After those first days they started to think they could ask for more. It was a simple start.”
How did the church look at the protests in those early days?
Achmad: “There was not one idea. Every Syrian had his own views. We had people in church thinking that it was good to go to the streets. Others thought the opposite. They thought this would destroy the country and thought some would take power, want to rule us and to kill us. The church started to deal with it. I think the church did a good job. The church treated all of as individuals in church, no matter their opinion. But as a Christian it was normal to stay with the government and not to enter the conflict.
“Christians in Syria were in doubt what to do. First the church was silent during the first days. After the bombings and the blood, the church took up a role in helping people and providing food to the displaced. I can assure you that we did not know during these first days that the war would become as bad as it is. After some days of only shouting on the street, the shooting started. With blood on the streets, it became easy to kill someone. My father said: ‘this will never finish.’”
Did you lose loved ones?
Achmad: “I know many people. Every Christian knows them. Of all my friends that in the past said Merry Christmas to me before the conflict, some 40 to 50, just two or three are left. Some fled out of the country, others are in jail and others were killed. Many friends of mine were killed. Every time I remember my colleagues of school. It is hard to believe that they are gone. We lived together and ate together; now they are dead just for being on the streets. One of the friends that died was like a brother to me.”
What change did the war bring for the Church in Daraa?
Achmad: “Before the war, people in the church of course believed in Christ. But it was hard for non-Christians to become a Christian. With the war it is easier to visit a church as a non-Christian and to pray with a non-Christian. The war shakes the people. They start thinking about right and wrong and people think about God more and more.
“It’s easier to invite persons to church. As the church distributes aid, people ask: Why do people help us? Why do you help me; I am a Muslim? I said: ‘Jesus loves you and I love you because He loves you.’”
What do you think about the current situation?
Achmad: “I think in two ways. A real change in the country should be done in a peaceful way. But, we have to deal with war…..we did not create this war. The situation is something that happened; the killing, blood, misery. We have to help the others to stand and survive in these bad days. Sometimes the war gives opportunities to speak with Muslims about the message of salvation.
“In a way the war is very bad and miserable. On the other hand, it is helping people to find Christ. The war helps us as church to be available to others. And to share Jesus Christ’s love.”
What should Christians in the West pray for as the war enters its fifth year?
Achmad: First, pray for a peaceful government. Pray for the people who live in misery. Pray that God will stop the killing and bloodshed. Pray for a new Syria.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Katie Rouse at 678-410-9575.