An unlikely encounter led to Alya, from a Muslim background in Syria, giving her life to Jesus. Here’s her story, and how your gifts and prayers are helping Syrian believers like her.
Alya has had to escape a terrible situation more than once. She, her husband and their five children fled Deir Ez-Zor in 2012, because of Syrian rebels. They were in Raqqa for two years when so-called Islamic State (IS) claimed it as their capital. Alya’s family were all Muslims, but this wouldn’t protect them.
“We saw a lot of terrible things," says Alya. "One day I was heading to a shop, and they were beheading people.” Some of Alya’s memories of what she witnessed during this time are too distressing to share with Open Doors supporters. Worst of all for her family, one of her sons went missing. They only found out seven months later that he’d died in a bus bombing.
The tipping point came in 2016 when an IS soldier came to the house to complain that their daughter had been seen at school without being fully covered in the mandatory black robes. “They said that we should bring our daughter to them the next day,” says Alya. “They would have given our daughter to one of their men; she would have become one of their slaves.”
A serendipitous meeting
Alya knew they couldn’t stay. Despite the financial difficulties of leaving, they fled to Qamishli. At the airport, their baggage didn’t arrive. A nearby man noticed the family’s panic and offered to help. Alya didn’t know whom to trust, and so declined – but did take his business card.
A few weeks later, Alya wasn’t coping. She had been propositioned by a potential landlord, and the episode upset her so much that she had to go to hospital. And she remembered the business card. She phoned the number on it.
“Yes, of course I can help,” was the response she heard. The person she’d called was Pastor George – an Open Doors partner who leads a Centre of Hope church in Qamishli and has stood with his community for many years. You can read more about him in another blog post.
But Pastor George doesn’t just look out for people in his church’s congregation. Even though Alya and her family were Muslim, and he didn’t know them, Pastor George arranged a house for the family to move into.
“When we were in that house, I was in peace," Alya says. "I saw the pastor was an honest man, and I wanted to know more about that church. So I went for the first time to a church service. The preacher spoke about forgiveness. It made me cry.” Pastor George was preaching from Matthew 5:39: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Alya was curious. When she came home, she returned to her Islamic prayers. “But I said to myself, ‘I want to go one more time.'” She went to a mid-week Bible study. As Pastor George and his wife explained more about the Bible, they also showed the love of Jesus practically, Alya remembers. “They were helping me, asking me how I was doing, taking care of me. The church felt like one big family.”
Alya received an audio Bible, because her reading isn’t strong. The more she heard, and the more she tried praying to Jesus, the more she saw God was working in her life. “I just couldn’t pretend that I was a Muslim. I started to talk to Jesus. I started to see that it wasn’t by accident that we came to Qamishli. Jesus wanted me to be in that place.”
She became a Christian – and her brother cut off financial support in response. But Alya didn’t have to look far for support – her new church family were quick to help. And it’s your gifts and prayers that enable Pastor George’s church to help vulnerable believers like Alya.
“I said to God: ‘Now you are responsible for me. As your child, I only have you,'” she says. “Jesus Christ is helping us. Without the help of God and of the church, we would have nothing.”
Alya received financial and spiritual help from the church before the pandemic hit. In this time of crisis, many more members of Pastor George’s church need urgent food and aid to survive – many have lost their jobs and are desperate. But Pastor George stays with them, and your prayers and gifts can sustain the church. Without help for this current crisis, it will be hard for the church to keep going and keep shining the light of Christ’s hope in Qamishli to people like Alya.
Currently, Alya’s husband and children remain Muslim and haven’t encountered Jesus. But Alya is patient and she has faith.
"Jesus is my life now," she said. "I was blind; now I see. I hope my family will be saved too.”
"We lost our son," she said, "but I saw how God gave His only Son for us. I became so rich because I found the real treasure, a treasure I didn’t have before.”
Source: Open Doors