In Aleppo, Syria, a Huge Opportunity Opens

February 23, 2017

Partially destroyed apartment complex in Aleppo.
The long road to recovery has begun in Aleppo, Syria.

Amid the collapsed remains of Aleppo, Syria, a convergence of outside aid, indigenous workers and government support has created a unique opportunity for gospel advance.

Two months after government forces retook Aleppo from rebel forces, the hollowed-out city has begun to restore some basic services amid the rubble. What was once Syria's largest city before protests in 2011 grew into civil war has seen some displaced residents return. Train service has begun anew, and repairs to the deliberately damaged water system are underway.

The economy remains in ruins, however, and bombed-out factories abound, especially in the war-ravaged eastern part of the city. Shelling or looting has damaged every one of the Aleppo's 65,000 factories to one degree or another, an industry leader told Reuters. Jobs are scarce as the industrial base has collapsed, and thousands of workers are displaced to other parts of the country or dispersed abroad. Prices for basic good remains high as supplies remain low.

Aleppo is struggling to rebound as war continues around it. Though government forces retook the city on Dec. 22, 2016, much of Aleppo is surrounded by rebel fighters. One industrial zone is within earshot of bombing and automatic gunfire, and access to the city is limited. The Islamic State (ISIS), just one of the jihadist terrorist groups fighting alongside (and sometimes against) insurgent troops, has maintained control of the critical source of Aleppo's water, as well as natural gas fields that provide derivatives needed for the city's electrical power.

Though western Aleppo is largely intact, many people in other parts of the city continue to rely on power generators and water delivered by tanker. At night the city is still mostly dark, except for specks of light from paraffin lamps burning in thousands of homes.

Into this urban nightmare a foreign organization stands ready to send large containers of aid. Without Christian volunteers on the ground and support from the Syrian government, however, the organization's 1 million-plus food bags would never reach Aleppo's pining survivors. An indigenous ministry will provide both workers and government support.

The ministry, based in an undisclosed country in the Middle East, has ties with Christians in Syria that will distribute the goods, and its director said a series of providential events led to military officials pledging approval and protection. While details of the links with government officials cannot be revealed, the director said, "It is a tremendous opportunity, and it's a miracle how God made it happen."

"People are starving, they need all kinds of help, and the door is opening for the gospel, with cover from the government," he said.

Part of miracle, he said, is that the government – run by Alawite strongman Bashar al-Assad – allowed Christian literature to be distributed with the aid.

"The official said we were welcome to do whatever we wanted to do, and I was very clear with him," the director said. "I said, 'The refugees don't need just food and blankets and to be warm, they also must find hope. To bring them hope, we're giving them the Word of God.' And he said, 'Yes, no problem,' and I even told him I'd give him a copy to review – to make sure it was not propaganda. I told him it's the Word of God, nothing else."

The official agreed to the inclusion of the Christian literature – in each container, 270,000 copies of an Arabic-language book about Jesus, using Bible verses arranged in chronological order.

Partially destroyed apartment complex in Aleppo.
Two months after government forces retook the city, many residents are hard-pressed to find food and water.

"The book is taken from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and part of Acts," the director said. "It's easier to give this, so people can't say, 'Oh they're distributing the Bible.' It's the life of Jesus, but it's the gospel too."

Likewise, each container will be filled with 270,000 food bags that feed two people each. The indigenous ministry plans to unload one container every two months, a total of four over eight months, as well as blankets, water bottles and other items.

About a quarter of the containers will be distributed to displaced people in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus, and three members of the indigenous ministry there will also assist in the distribution of aid in their native Aleppo. The ministry in Tartus saw enough people displaced from Aleppo and other parts of Syria receive Christ that they formed 23 home groups.

Among the 23 home groups were four families who have returned to Aleppo. Those four families will be the primary workers distributing goods from the containers in Aleppo, the director said.

"So we have four people on the ground there, as well as three going to Aleppo from Tartus," the director said. "With this opportunity, it's not now just about sending blankets, it's about how will we be doing that. Will we just be doing aid work, or gospel ministry? We want to do gospel ministry."

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