Editor’s note: It is exceedingly rare for BNG to run any article without a clearly identified byline for the author. What follows is a rare exception to this policy, in order to publish the current testimony of a Christian pastor in Syria. The author of this piece is known personally by one of our writers through a partnership with Open Doors, a ministry to the persecuted church.
As I look back at the years of war in Syria, especially in the city where I live, Aleppo, I never would have imagined that we would have survived what we went through in fierce military conflict.
We once had our power cut in my neighborhood for eight months. Our city was besieged, and we ran out of food. We lost loved ones from our Christian community due to the arbitrary bomb shelling that targeted the city during the battles.
One day, Good Friday of 2014 (which Christians in the East call “Sad Friday”), extremists were determined to render that Friday a real sad Friday. I was not yet married, and I recall getting home as a fierce bomb’s shelling burst onto the Christian districts. I recall how segments of stones fell on me from all directions. It was a terrible night, on which we lost many Christians in our district.
Aleppo has been declared safe since 2016, but people’s lives are still at stake as they struggle immensely with economic insecurity. The currency dropped down from 50 SYP for each $1 to 4,600 SYP (a decline of 92 times). The salaries did not increase in parallel, which created a vast disparity between income and the cost of living. Many Christians have been subject to conscription during the crisis as the government needed extra capacity to defy the rebels’ overrunning of the country. Christian youths did not want to take part as the war seemed to be ceaseless to them. So, they headed to Lebanon where some remain, and others migrated to Europe, Australia or Canada.
Many Christians today cannot perceive any hope as their situations are deteriorating. Medical care is nonexistent. Starvation is a real concern.
Unfortunately, I do not see any rehabilitation or reconstruction in the city, even though the war ended four years ago. This causes people to worry that life is never to be the same as it once was. Still, Syrian Christians have hope in Christ and have a few things to share about our experiences.
Even though many committed Christians traveled abroad, many others who have not had a spiritual encounter with the Lord grew more committed to attending church services and working on their spiritual growth.
The church discovered that caring for people is at the core of its mission, not programs or buildings. So, we witnessed a shift in the mindset among church leaders, which resulted in a more profound relationship between church leaders and Christians.
“I believe to enumerate all that Christians have gone through is an impossible task.”
I believe to enumerate all that Christians have gone through is an impossible task. A believer who used to attend my church was executed by ISIS for refusing to deny Jesus (and the video of his execution is available on the internet). Churches have been destroyed. Villages were completely emptied of Christians who were not considering returning since they no longer felt safe.
This is an agonizing fact since Christians suffered from a long history of persecution and chose to stay. On the contrary, today, many Christians are not able to tolerate the severe persecution and are leaving the places where their ancestors lived for centuries.
I lost many loved people because of the war; some as a result of death and others due to migration. The services (fuel, water, electricity, bread) are not available, and we have had to go hours without electricity. I had to take care of many elderly people as their family members left the country. I run into people in need wherever I go. When I see the empty houses in my city, I feel that our existence as Christians in my country is at stake.
However, I profoundly believe that life is not always about safety, stability or tranquillity; it is rather about meaning. God is not pleased by our achievements and successes, but sometimes God is asking us to make sacrifices to leave our comfort zones and move against the current.
“I see that our presence as Christians is a key factor to enhancing life in the Middle East and sharing the good news to desperate people who have no hope.”
The church is the ship that is moving against the current. I see that our presence as Christians is a key factor to enhancing life in the Middle East and sharing the good news to desperate people who have no hope.
There is no doubt that there are challenges due to the lack of leaders and the vast need for resources for people in the community. It is also a fact that the church is suffering from losing its youth and, therefore, losing the engine that speeds up the ministry.
So, the church in Syria today feels that its calling here is to tell people around the world that the reason for their agony is not only the war and its consequences, but the absence of God in their lives. Also, the church wants to proclaim to them that nothing in life could give them real joy, except a restored relationship with Christ.