In Aleppo, Syria, the Fight to Survive Goes On

January 5, 2017

Aleppo neighborhood.  .
Civilians were in danger of being bombed or otherwise killed, imprisoned or forcibly "disappeared" as suspected rebels during the government offensive to retake Aleppo, Syria.

Residents of Aleppo, Syria are trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives amid the rubble of the city after Syrian forces took the last rebel-held areas on Dec. 22.

The retaking of Aleppo freed tens of thousands of civilians in the eastern part of the city from danger of being bombed or otherwise killed, imprisoned or forcibly "disappeared" as suspected rebels, but residents remain in sharp need, the leader of a ministry in the country said. People in Aleppo have been living in cold winter temperatures without functioning hospitals and with scant electricity and water.

"Everything is needed – anything is needed," the ministry leader said. "First of all, the emotional part – people are so down, so scared. They're lost. When you look at Aleppo, it's like a ghost. So fear is very high."

Ministry workers are visiting with residents daily to pray with them and determine how they can assist them, he said. Needs range from home heating to transportation – the difficulty of simply getting from one place to another. Resources of any kind are hard to find, including food and water, he said. Stores that have not been bombed or shuttered are open in some areas, but due to disruptions in supply, prices have rocketed.

Costs to transport food in from abroad would be even higher. The indigenous ministry is able to purchase food locally within Syria and truck it to needy areas of Aleppo, though at high cost.

"We have to buy them very expensive and get them to the people," he said.

The ministry regularly travels into eastern Aleppo, where rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad were defeated on Dec. 22. For days during and after the offensive to drive the rebels out, ministry workers had to withdraw from the area due to instability.

"The government is going door to door checking people," the ministry leader said the day Syrian forces routed the rebels (Dec. 22). "At this stage, no one knows if the rebels really left or changed their look. That is a problem, because they can mix in and be part of the people. You wouldn't know. So the situation is still not that stable."

Economic stability also will be a long time coming. The $80 to $85 that the indigenous ministry once spent for food bags for needy residents of Aleppo now buys about half the previous amount of staples and other survival goods, the ministry leader said.

"We used to put in rice and oil and spaghetti and stuff like that, as well as canned meats and sugar," he said. "Now we don't even put in 50 percent of that; we cannot afford it. We do as much as we can."

Helping to meet physical needs has helped open the way for meeting spiritual needs. One of the ministry leader's biggest requests is for Christian coloring books, CDs and audio recordings. As Syrians in the predominantly Islamic country come to Christ, ministry team members are busy relocating Christians who are in additional danger because of their new faith to safer areas.

"We have some families that we are dealing with right now – because of their faith, we're moving them from one place to another," the leader said. "We are relocating around 23 families."

Children's programs in Aleppo have led to a steep increase in people coming to Christ since war broke out in 2011.

The personal needs of 37 team leaders working throughout the area also weigh heavily on the indigenous ministry director's heart. Many are living and giving sacrificially.

"For several months we haven't paid them their full salaries, because we didn't have the funds," he said. "And even when we do, when we give it to them they share their own money with others."

Paid between $800 and $1,400 a month, depending on whether they are single or have families, all the team leaders must hold other jobs to make ends meet, he said. When a team leader receives his salary and sees someone in need, he will share it and run out of money halfway through the month, the director said.

"This is a need that most of the leaders all face," he said. "They're so involved that they share their own resources."

He urged prayer for the emotional health of leaders and their teams.

"For a leader to see that [deprivation] all the time, it puts them down," he said. "But what makes them go forward is when they see people coming to the Lord. But at the same time, it's not easy to see all the infants and babies and children and people homeless without anything. There's no care on the emotional side for those who are helping them."

The response to the gospel in Aleppo in the past six years has increased dramatically in outreaches such as programs for children and the resulting small groups that have emerged among their parents and other adults, he said.

"Before, we used to count the number of small groups on our fingers," he said. "Now we have many more groups going on. Because of the fruits, because of the number of people coming to Christ, you see the growth."

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