With the conflict in Syria rarely out of the news, and now entering it eighth year, it has been brought to the public’s attention once again with the recent missile strikes by the US, UK and France in response to the suspected chemical attack in Douma. To date, around half the Syrian population have had to flee their homes, with approximately 5 million people now refugees. We in Britain and Ireland look with a sense of horror and helplessness at what some of our Christian sisters and brothers, and others, are enduring. Many have died violently, forced from their homes and villages, have lost their livelihoods, forced into exile, pressured to abandon their faith, seen the destruction of ancient churches and monasteries, and even had their children abducted.
The road to Damascus plays a prominent role in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. It is perhaps then unsurprising that Syria is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Before the conflict, Christians accounted for approximately 1.8 million of Syria’s 22 million population although by the summer of 2013 it was already estimated that some 500,000 had been displaced from their homes and many of their number now reside across the region as refugees. The most prominent Syrian churches belong to Eastern denominations, the largest of which is the Greek Orthodox Church. Other populous denominations include the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic Church. In common with neighbouring countries there is also a small but active Protestant and Evangelical community, including the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and the Lebanon.
Almighty God, anoint us with your Holy Spirit, challenge us and transform us into your people, a Church that is One, and which responds in love and justice to all who suffer in our world, in the name of Christ we pray, amen. Click To Tweet
Who cares for every created being, having even numbered the hairs on our heads,
We pray now for each person in Syria.
In these dark days, may decisions be made that honour the sanctity of life created by you;
May wise and far-sighted counsel prevail that seeks the well-being of all humanity.
Prince of Peace,
We open our hearts to you and confess our willingness to seek easy responses that require others to pay a hard price;
We open our reason to you and pledge our commitment to hear your words of compassion and peace.
Lover of Concord,
let your love shine through those who bring aid and solace in the land of Syria,
Those who choose between violence and peace,
Those who influence opinions in words and tweets.
Hear our cry and help us work together to seek peace and pursue it.
In the space of 48 hours, everything changed for four brothers who lived with their families in a wealthy suburb of a Syrian city. Their homes, cars, and food were destroyed by shelling, and their lives were turned upside down. First they felt shock, and then fear about what might happen next if they stayed.
The families left together, leaving behind everything, including their dreams. They moved to the relative safety of a new city, finding one apartment for all four families to share (16 children plus parents and grandparents). The rent is highly inflated as a result of the conflict, and they have to pay it on a daily basis or they will lose the apartment. They were not welcomed in the new neighbourhood, and they feel alone and ‘naked’. The families have had to resort to knocking on doors and begging for hand-outs, and their new neediness and vulnerability is extremely difficult for them to adjust to, particularly for the older generation. Various family members started suffering from stress related ailments, including ulcers.
A pastor who coordinates a local relief project went to visit the families in the apartment. When he asked them what they needed, they replied, ‘First, we want to be treated like human beings, not like animals.’ They were Christian, and during the visit he prayed with the family members who were sick. One of the young men told him, ‘My mind is confused; my brain has stopped. I can no longer think ahead. How can I rebuild my life, when I now have no home and no money?’ The pastor replied that there is hope, because Jesus gives us hope. He went on to discuss the Bible with the family, and shared that sometimes Jesus gives enormous challenges so that people will return to Him. Since the time of the pastor’s first visit, the family has received some food assistance through the church and a few of the family members have started to attend Bible study sessions.
This story is reproduced from our 2015 lent course written by CTBI in partnership with Embrace the Middle East. You will find more stories from Syrian refugees on the Christian Aid website where you can donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal.