Three Years Later, It is Day-to-Day Survival for Christians in Syria
March 21, 2014
The mass exodus of Syrians into neighboring countries began after the outbreak of civil war in 2011.
Another 3.5 million are displaced inside Syria.
Sabeen* was driving her sister and niece to a hospital in Damascus to visit a friend. As they passed through a neighborhood, gunfire cracked around them. The sound was nothing new to the three Syrian women. After months of violence, their streets looked like asphalt battlefields. Mortar shells left buildings—and human lives—shattered. War overshadowed every aspect of their existence.
Then came the jarring boom.
At least it sounded like an explosion. Something had struck the front of the car.
Stunned that the vehicle was still intact and they were unharmed, the three women continued on toward the hospital. Once safely there, they checked the outside of the car and could not find any evidence of a hit.
Two weeks later, a retired army major who recently became a Christian offered to look over their car. He found that a bullet had gone straight through the engine without touching or jamming anything inside. The bullet stopped at the back of the dashboard, directly across from where Sabeen had been sitting. The only reason it had stopped was because the tip of the bullet was bent backwards—that, and God’s protection.
In a country where death lurks around every corner, some may argue these women were unwise to venture out into the streets of Damascus in the first place. But there is no safe place anywhere in Syria, especially for the hundreds of thousands of Christians who whether by choice or necessity remain within its borders.
Syria’s brutal civil war entered its third year on March 15, and there is no end in sight. An estimated 146,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Of the 9 million Syrians displaced from their homes, some 2.5 million are now refugees living in squalid conditions in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. As the war rages on, the total number of Syrians who are internally displaced or refugees in another country now represents 40 percent of Syria’s pre-conflict population.
But Sabeen and her sister refuse to sit back and do nothing. Both women are believers who travel throughout Damascus scouting for needs and holding prayer meetings. Then they connect with churches outside Syria to discuss how best to meet those needs.
‘We know our Lord has been working’
Through faithful Christian workers like Sabeen, indigenous ministries are demonstrating the love of Christ and responding to the needs of some of the most desperate Syrian families with food, housing, and medical assistance.
Christian Aid Mission received the following report from a Jordanian ministry, describing the situation inside Syria and a few hard-won victories that inspire them to press on.
At least half of Syria’s refugees are children.
“Greetings in our Lord’s holy name. Many of you have been asking us for news and stories. Even though we are physically closer to Syria, the reports we receive are not clear and are sometimes conflicting. What is certain is that the situation continues to be one of concern and anxiety to Christians in the region and around the world.
“[We have] many stories about the conflict’s effect on Christians. In one Christian town, believers were caught between the resistance and the regime. On one side, armed gangs of ‘freedom fighters’ directly terrorized the Christian population, threatening them with attacks on their homes, clinics, and offices. On the other side, the Syrian regime targeted these fighters by shelling the town, destroying most of the residents’ houses. Forced to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs, most of the former residents are now refugees in Damascus.
“Half a million more internally displaced refugees are seeking shelter in other areas of the capital city. Their homes are overcrowded, below decent living standards, and yet still unaffordable. Here are just a few of their stories:
- A professor at Damascus University used to live with a farmer in the Christian village of Kharba. A group of Islamic radical fighters attacked him and his wife, wounding her on the hip and locking her in the boiler room. Meanwhile, they kidnapped both the professor and the farmer, looting the house and asking for about $70,000 in ransom. The professor and farmer resisted, managed to overpower the guard, and escaped. They returned to the farm, freed the professor’s wife, and fled, leaving everything behind. The church does not know where they are now, but continues to keep them in prayer.
- A mother from Aleppo told us about her 21-year-old son’s kidnapping. The son was enlisted in the Syrian Army and kidnapped by a radical group, which asked for a $50,000 ransom. After five months, we managed to find the son in Syria and met leaders of the group. They agreed to release the son, after acknowledging that the church here in Jordan has gone out of its way to help our Syrian brothers and sisters regardless of their religion. The radicals had threatened to kill this son, who was becoming a burden on them, but he has now returned to his family.
- In Zaatari camp, which currently hosts more than 130,000 Syrian refugees, three Christian girls were living alone with no family. Some women approached them, promising help and a home – but only if they married Muslim sheikhs. Two of the girls were frightened into submission. The third refused, finding support from a Muslim woman who works with aid NGOs and who called us for help. We secured the funds to help the three girls escape, including the two who had been forced into marriage. All three are now taking refuge with relatives in Turkey.
Food provisions and medical care are the primary needs for struggling families.
“These are but a few of many grave stories affecting Syrians in general and Christian Syrians in particular. Yet we know that our Lord has been working in Syria. Screenings of Dimashq Tatakalum ('Damascus Speaks'), a film that tells the life story of St. Paul, have been taking place around the country. Recently it was scheduled to play for an audience of 1,000 at a cultural center in Latakia. On the day of the screening, organizers were told that the show was cancelled because it was 'evangelistic material.' Our journalist friend prayed and began to make phone calls, particularly to the head of security. He listened and gave immediate written consent, to our great surprise and thanksgiving. Praise the Lord for His miracles.
“As need continues to grow, the church in Syria and Jordan is doing all it can for the displaced. We are giving out food parcels, clothes, medicines, and cash for rent and utilities. We are told that what we’ve offered comes nowhere near to covering all the families’ needs. At the same time, we hope, pray, and continue to try. The greatest needs right now are for medication, particularly for chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, as well as general antibiotics and vitamins. While these goods are on the market in the area, their prices have at least tripled. We cannot send shipments of gifts-in-kind into Syria, but funds can and do go through.
“Many churches within Syria are ready to receive funds and purchase relief material for the displaced. One Syrian church has a large ministry for displaced Syrians within the country. Their Friday service has grown to around 600 in attendance, and many have come to a real walk with the Lord. The church also ministers through individual visits outside its physical grounds. It worked with the Red Crescent committee until recently, when declining security and increasing checkpoints forced the NGO to stop. The church’s ministry is continuing on its own. These ministries are supported by individual and personal donations, outside donations, and the church body itself. While we continue to reach out to refugees in Jordan, we are also helping our brothers and sisters of the church inside Syria, and we invite you to take part in the ministry, as well.
“May our Lord use us to encourage and strengthen our brothers and sisters who are going through hardships both within and without Syria. May His grace and peace rule their hearts in spite of the surrounding chaos.”
The Jordanian ministry is seeking assistance to purchase food packages ($75 to feed one Syrian family for a week) and Bibles ($5 each). Medical needs are equally pressing. A gift of $20 will help buy antibiotics, diabetic medication, and other basic medical supplies. General surgeries cost approximately $2,000.
*(name changed for reasons of security)