For four years the civil war in Syria has raged. This month exactly four years ago the first protests started in the Syrian city of Daraa. Soon protests spread all over the country and turned violent.
In 2012 Open Doors started to support several churches of all denominations throughout Syria to help the needy Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). One of the churches Open Doors partners with is located in the coastal Syrian city of Tartus. Pastor Boutros (his real name is protected for security reasons) of the church reports about the challenges and joys:
What can you say about the Syrian war?
Boutros: “We are seeing that in Syria we lack fuel and electricity; there are long cuts in electricity supply. The price of fuel is twice as much as it was before. So in many cases there is no heat. And we’re not seeing that there is a political solution to the crisis. Every day people are dying, and there are cities that are completely deserted.”
What is the mood of the people in your area in Syria?
Boutros: “There is a new desire by the people to flee and leave the country; the people don’t have hope that things will get better. This feeling is increasing. I know hope is only in Christ, so you can imagine how tired the people are who don’t know Christ.”
What is your church doing to help the people?
Boutros: “We have complete faith that God who has helped us in Syria for the past four years will help us in 2015. In the beginning we were helping 16 families; now we are supporting 2,180 families with your support and 1,000 families through another organization since the beginning of 2015. We support families in 10 cities. The majority of the people we are working with are not Christians. The people face real poverty because have they lost their homes, jobs and some of them lost their parents or children and whatever savings they had. They depend on the support they get. The church today is like a tent that cares for those beneath her. And she is like a hospital that cares for those inside. And the most important thing is that the church is like a family for those who feel strange inside their own country.”
What are you doing to support the families?
Boutros: “We do monthly food distribution. We visit them in the places they stay and see what they have and we see what they need. We have a relationship with the people – there is real communication between us. We are not just giving food or cash. During the visits the people hear the Gospel. We also visit the sick; we pray for them and try to help with their medical needs.
“I see that having this relationship with the people is the solution to the problems in Syria. Peace comes only through Jesus. When people hear and experience the problems they want revenge, but the church is doing the work of reconciliation.
“We are also bringing this message through all the programs and activities. For example, we are now holding lectures once a month in the church building where we bring in doctors to talk about different diseases.
“I am very happy with what God is doing, and to see that in a time of war and tragedy. The church is offering something entirely different: joy and hope. People are praying and going out in the streets. I pray with them to commit their lives to Christ. I see people who were in despair and have hope again. We are seeing how happy and joyful people are because someone came and visited them and asked about them. This is even more important than the food. The people appreciate that we are knocking on the doors asking what they need.”
Do you have specific programs for children?
Boutros: “We did a children’s program in Safita and there were children there whose parents had died. We gathered children from seven villages in Safita and did a two-hour activity. There were 300 children and we gave them winter clothes (a sweater, scarf, ear muffs and cap) and some sweets. Because we know the families and we have a file of their ages and genders, we could prepare the clothes especially for them.”
Could you give an example of a family you have helped?
Boutros: “One of the homes we entered was where a family with a paralyzed child lived. They had no heating in their house and the cold caused pain to this child. We brought them a wood-burning stove. The family was very impacted by this. I was very much affected when I saw this child crying from the cold. But we were able to help. It made me think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ This is how we work: we always try to know what the needs of the families are and to provide for them according to their needs.”
What would you say to the people who are praying for your ministry and/or giving financial support?
Boutros: “I give huge thanks to you on behalf of these families for not forgetting us, and standing with us in the long term. Even though the situation is difficult and prolonged, I thank you that you have continued supporting us. Through your partnership we are seeing beautiful results.”
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Katie Rouse at 678-410-9575.