04 December 2015
In a week when international attention has been firmly fixed on Syria, our Syrian church family need us to kneel with them in prayer and consider how we can support them in action, as they continue to shine as a light in the darkness.
Alongside the violence of the civil war that began in 2011, Christians in Syria have been the targets of Islamic extremists. Pastor Samuel* from Aleppo says: "Most churches were already targeted by the fanatics. Rockets and shells fall in the Christian areas. That is why a lot of the Christians left the city. They want everyone to be a Muslim, they want Christians to leave."
But even in the face of the fiercest attacks, the church has continued to stand. Robert, Open Doors co-ordinator for Syria and Iraq, says: "We observe a new development best described as an 'internally displaced church'. Every now and then we discover complete parishes adrift. Islamic State confiscated their church building, demolished their valuables, and burned their Bibles. Despite this, the priest and his deacons continue holding services. Functions are fulfilled and prayers ascend to God. All tangible elements of the church have disappeared, yet the church as the Body of Christ still functions."
WHO WOULD HELP IF THE CHURCH DOESN'T HELP?
The church is a vital lifeline for thousands in Syria. "From the very start of the crises in Iraq and Syria, churches spontaneously formed an approachable relief network," Robert says. "Displaced Christians asked for help at local churches. It was there they met pastors and parishioners who provided them with their essential needs. In most cases they still do."
Pastor Samuel is one of our local partners, and we resource his church with food, blankets and other essential items to give to those in need, thanks to the generosity of our supporters. He says: "There is a lot of malnutrition in Aleppo. If the church did not help the people with food parcels, if we did not help the suffering families who have no income, how would they survive? Who would help if the church doesn't help?
"We provided blankets for the winter; there is no fuel to heat the homes and it can be very cold in the winter. We provide them with bread; for us bread is a basic need, like rice in Asia."
PRAYERS BRING ENCOURAGEMENT
In order to continue this vital work, the church in Syria needs our prayers for protection, provision and strength. "Our only protection is from the Lord," says Pastor Samuel. "We pray, I pray, I hand myself over to the hands of the Lord. I always have the fear when I go out to meet with a family that this could be my last journey on earth."
The prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world are a great encouragement to believers in Syria. Pastor Samuel says: "Whenever I hear of this, when someone calls, and when I receive mail, I announce it in the church. People are thankful; they feel they are not alone when they hear it. They appreciate the concern of our brothers and sisters."
IT IS UP TO US
The church in Syria also needs their global church family to continue to resource them in order to help those in need and bring hope in a hopeless situation. Robert says: "The need is overwhelming and increasing. Local churches run out of supplies and money, and volunteers are exhausted. As Open Doors, we have provided aid and support to churches in Iraq and Syria for years now. By doing that, we throw a lifeline to many churches which act as a rare shelter, a last hope for many Christians.
"We are one of the very few organisations still operating in Syria. That is not because of our impressive efforts, but only because, in a very special way, we were given access to an extensive network within the country long before the crisis manifested itself. We cannot walk away from the responsibility that we have received. Providing aid to displaced Christians in Syria can only take place through local churches; there are no other responsible methods. The church in Syria is willing to take on this task, and it is up to us to serve them."
Open Doors is providing food and hygiene kits for almost 10,000 families - around 50,000 people - every month in Syria through local churches and partners. This simply wouldn't be possible without the continuing prayers and generosity of our supporters.
TURNING BAD INTO GOOD
As well as helping the people of Syria to simply stay alive, the church in Syria is also allowing people to find new life in Christ. One of our workers says: "God is turning the bad into good. I am amazed how many Muslims have converted to Christ. I see full churches now."
We expect to have delivered 100,000 books, including Bibles, gospels and children's Bibles, to Syria in 2015. One new believer, who received a Bible, said: "Every morning my wife and I take the Bible and read it and take time to pray. I cannot sleep without reading my Bible."
SERVE THE CHURCH IN SYRIA
As Robert said, the church in Syria is willing to take on the task of helping their people to survive and bringing the hope of the gospel to their nation, but it is up to us to serve them. Here are three ways you can serve the church in Syria:
- Pray. If you'd like to pray with your church or small group, we've created a Powerpoint presentation to help you use the Lord's Prayer to pray for the Middle East.
- Give. A gift of £71 today can provide an emergency food parcel to feed a family of five in Syria for a month.
- Speak out. Invite your MP to the launch of our 2016 World Watch List on 13 January, and ensure they have all the information they need to support international freedom of religion and belief, both in Syria and around the world.
- Live like a refugee. Order our new discipleship resource or sign up for daily emails throughout Lent to help you identify with the 'internally displaced church'.