Bringing the Joy of Jesus to Children in Syria
July 17, 2014
Syrian children hold up crafts they made during an Easter celebration in April. The outreach received an enthusiastic response from parents and prompted the startup of Kids’ Clubs this summer.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise?’” (Matthew 21:16, NIV)
Kids are kids everywhere, and that includes Syrian boys and girls whose country is embroiled in a horrific civil war.
At this morning’s gathering, the music leader begins by telling the children he is thankful. He praises God for the talent given him to sing and play the guitar. He is thankful for God’s love that changed his heart. He is thankful for life and health and all the precious boys and girls in the room.
The young musician has a captive audience. His ministry team expected a low turnout this weekend due to summer activities. Instead, they had more children than ever show up—75 kids accompanied by their moms and some dads.
The church sanctuary livens up as the children stand and sing a song about Jesus. One girl is wearing a lime green Mickey Mouse shirt. A boy adjusts his baseball cap and turns to say something to his brother beside him. They are smiling and enjoying themselves. Since most come week after week, the children have the lyrics memorized.
They sing with zest. To an outsider, the music may sound more like joyful noise than sweet harmony. It is joyful nevertheless, and that’s what counts.
Near the front of the pews, about 20 three- to five-year-old kids clap to the music and try to sing along.
The team leader invites the assembly to give thanks to their Heavenly Father, but he is surprised when six youngsters in this group raise their little hands to pray.
“Dear God, help my daddy find a job,” began one.
“Please make people stop hurting each other,” interjected another child.
“Thank you for our teachers. They are nice to us and give us hugs,” added another.
The leaders were touched and speechless. If they needed a demonstration of proof, this was it. God is indeed doing a great work in the hearts of these boys and girls.
Putting a song in their hearts
These youth are finding lots of reasons to sing and praise Jesus for His blessings in their lives.
Wars are waged by adults, but children cannot escape the consequences. During the past three years of outreach to traumatized Syrian families, relief workers from a Christian Aid-assisted ministry saw that children’s emotional and spiritual needs were being overlooked. Some type of activity or program was needed at least once a week to help them be kids again, a safe haven where they could have fun and learn about Jesus.
As a result, the ministry launched a program called Jesus for Kids (JFK) during Easter weekend. Originally called the Easter Clubs, these meetings provided opportunities for a team of Syrian Christians to introduce children to their risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
The two initial programs were a whopping success. Some 700 kids, the majority from Muslim households, packed the church for the first event. They watched a skit about God’s greatest gift and were invited to pray to receive that gift. At a follow-up gathering, 350 children attended, of whom over 100 were Muslim.
Seeing the potential, the ministry had bigger plans for JFK as an ongoing outreach to Syrian children, but financial difficulties were a great concern. Thanks to the generosity of Christian Aid Mission donors, however, the workers are now able to focus full-time on ministry, not fund-raising. The team still faces physical danger on a daily basis, but that has not deterred them from seeking to bring a ray of hope and light to hurting hearts.
The response has been astounding. Since the launch of JFK , the program has already reached over 15,000 Syrian children in Aleppo, Damascus, and other cities!
The team of mostly young adults travels to different churches, leading the children in songs, crafts, Bible games, and prayer. Currently there are 18 full-time JFK workers, but the ministry would like to put additional teams into service soon.
“For the children of Syria, seeing Bible stories portrayed through flannel graphs or with puppets can make the Bible come to life,” said Stephen Van Valkenburg, the Middle East area director for Christian Aid. “These wonderful tools for evangelism bring laughter and joy to a room full of children.”
Children who have witnessed the ugliness of war can enjoy a stable and fun environment at club events.
This simple ministry is having an impact on more than the kids. Parents and other family members accompany their children to the events, so they are listening to the gospel message too.
JFK team members also conduct follow-up visits with families in their homes during the week. This aspect of their ministry is critical, as the individual visits afford them one-on-one opportunities to build relationships and disciple new believers. Parents attend home Bible studies and gather for prayer. Their faith blossoms when they see those prayers answered—sometimes in miraculous ways.
Recently a team member was summoned to the hospital bedside of one of the children who regularly attended club meetings. The boy was seriously wounded by a bullet that had entered through his neck and had lodged less than a centimeter away from his heart.
The child’s mother could not hold back her tears when the team member walked into the room.
“It’s a miracle that the bullet stopped before it struck my son’s heart,” she said. “Jesus stopped the bullet.”
Then it was the team member who cried. “This boy and his family had never been in a church before. They were from a Muslim background,” he said. “I sat down and prayed that Jesus complete His healing work in this child’s life, and that He be glorified through this family.”
The ministry leader estimates that about 90 percent of those being reached through JFK are Muslim. He said it is possible that, since Easter, 20,000 Syrian children, their parents, and other family members have believed in Christ through the JFK programs.
“When you hear the children sing the songs, and they know the words, that’s when you realize they really have been listening. It’s not just about having fun,” he said.
“You can see a huge difference in them, especially the older kids. Only God knows how the seeds planted through this ministry will come to fruition in the future.”
The ministry would like to expand its Jesus for Kids outreach from just one to a dozen teams in order to cover additional locations in Syria. The leader’s wish list would include 50 full-time staff and some 300 volunteers. Craft supplies, crayons, flannel graphs, ministry props, and audiovisual materials are also needed.