An estimated 700,000 Christians have left Syria, but some pastors and church workers have made the decision to stay in the country torn apart by a civil war and the savage murders and kidnappings carried out by Islamic State (IS) extremists. Life is dangerous for Christians with daily shootings, regular bomb explosions and snipers in the streets. What makes Pastor Samuel* and relief worker Fathi* from Aleppo and Pastor Edward from Damascus stay?
Before the war began, cities such as Aleppo, Damascus and Homs were home to large Christian communities. Many of the Christians who are still in Aleppo are there for two main reasons: 1) they have no money to leave the city, or 2) they feel called to stay to help the remaining people or their congregations. One of them is Pastor Samuel, a pastor of a Protestant church with 250 members attending every Sunday. His wife and children have left the country; for them it was impossible to live under the constant threat of violence. The family endured great sacrifice. They have been separated from each other for a long time.
“Despite everything that has happened, we are all trying to do our best to serve the people who remain and provide God’s hope in a hopeless situation,” says Pastor Samuel. He sees many people coming to his church, mainly people who cannot go to their own churches because of the fighting. “In many situations the only thing we can do is pray. Psalm 91 comforts me and gives me strength.”
Fathi is one of the Syrian Christians who plays a key role in helping refugees through local churches supported by Open Doors.
“No, I never thought of leaving,” he said to an Open Doors worker. “Every day I see how we can help people deal with reality. Of course, on the other side, I think of my family. I am afraid for their lives, but not for my own. Over the last couple of years the Lord had protected me when I was stopped at checkpoints and when I went through certain areas of the city and country. God protected me.
“That keeps me going. I see how we can make a difference through the work we are doing. When bullets hit left and right of you, when buildings crash, and when you fear for your life, the bigger picture helps us to continue. We need to go on. I am happy to see it is a joint effort of different churches and denominations. It is not about me.”
Pastor Edward stays with his wife Ranaa in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
“We don’t want to leave,” he shares. “We are feeling even more responsible now. To be honest, we’re not really concerned about our own safety. We thank God who is helping us day by day. He is giving us a peace that surpasses understanding.”
All of the people leaving have left a large hole in the churches.
“Of course we feel it when people leave,” says Pastor Edward. “It depresses us to see people depart. Though many have left, the church is still full. Many new people are coming to church. That is very encouraging. We see the hand of God at work.”
The three are thankful for the Christians around the world who pray for Syria.
“We thank God for all those who pray for us and who support us,” expresses Pastor Samuel. “The Lord is watching us. He is our fortress, our strength and refuge. He will protect us.”
Syria is ranked #4 on Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians.
Open Doors President/CEO David Curry told the Christian Post in a phone interview recently that refugees in northern Iraq and Syria are facing “huge food shortages,” with close to 300,000 Christians having limited means by which to pay for food. With millions of people displaced across the region, Open Doors estimates that $20 million will be needed to provide food for the refugees in the next 18 months. Curry said that one of his biggest concerns is that Christians “will be the last among the refugees to receive vitally needed help,” and called on Christians around the world to partner with Open Doors in order to remind those who are suffering that they are not forgotten.
*Real names are protected for security reasons
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.