Golden Window of Opportunity Opens in Syria
When a Muslim soldier finally met up with his wife and three children at a camp for people displaced by Syria’s civil war, they found there was literally less of him to embrace.
It wasn’t just that Sayid* had less muscle mass in his injured arms and less skin on his side, thanks to an Improvised Explosive Device that Islamic State (ISIS) militants had detonated yards away from him. Nor that the blast seemed to have ongoing effects on his lungs and liver.
They noticed that he was moody and had difficulty concentrating. He sometimes seemed confused. Making decisions was difficult, and he had frequent headaches. Sayid couldn’t recall things from their shared lives that he normally would. He was not fully the Sayid he was before, and it was unclear if he ever would be.
He had undergone 12 operations to reduce swelling of the brain, get skin grafts and repair internal organs.
Overworked doctors were too hurried to determine whether to attribute his cognitive problems to complications from concussion (purely physical) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (emotional), which delayed treatment options. Sayid was dejected about this and the gruffness of the doctors and other hospital staff members; they seemed to regard him as someone who had brought his injuries on himself, or at the very least as an interruption in their busy schedules.
This did not help in his recovery.
“When they’re coming to church and asking us to pray for needs, I can see that God is working in their life,” the ministry leader said. “People asking for prayer are Sunni Muslims, extremist Muslims too.”
He learned about a three-day medical clinic at the camp for displaced people and decided to see if there was anything they could do for him. Run by an indigenous Christian ministry based in the undisclosed city in Syria, the clinic offered him something the health-care system had not: a listening ear. Every member of the medical team heard some part of his story – from life before civil war broke out, to the atrocities he’d witnessed, to the blast that left him limping both physically and emotionally.
He couldn’t remember every detail, but family members remarked that he was summoning more from his memory banks than at any time since the blast. They also noted that he had been listening to the medical workers talk about Christ as the Son of God.
“I am very happy with their Jesus,” Sayid told them. “What they are doing is Jesus through them.”
Having learned about Christ’s love, he saw it expressed through the medical workers. He was happy to tell the ministry director about what he had found there.
“He shared about feeling the love and presence of Jesus here, and he said, ‘This is the first time ever I feel like a human with medical workers,'” the director said. “He said he wished all the medical people in the country could come and learn about Jesus so they would treat people well.”
Yet to make a formal decision to follow Christ, Sayid is learning about Him and, more importantly, is experiencing God directly. Having tasted of the Lord, the goodness of the Word and the powers of the age to come, he is well on the path to eternal life, the director said.
The clinic gave him medicines as part of his follow-up treatment, and they left him with something far greater.
“At the end he said, ‘I don’t need any medicine or any treatment, because I am filled up with joy and satisfied,’ even though he did need medicine,” the director said.
The ministry has shown Christ’s love in other ways this year, including distribution of food, water and blankets – and Christian literature – to people displaced by war. Through partnership with another organization, the aid arrived in a shipping container that brought 270,000 food bags, each bag feeding two people.
From these distributions more than 500 people put their faith in Christ, forming dozens of house churches, the director said.
“There’s even more than 500, probably – there could be thousands, but personally I’ve seen hundreds,” he said.
Many more are, like Sayid, experiencing Christ in prayer and church attendance while not having yet made a decisive commitment, he said.
“When they’re coming to church and asking us to pray for one need or another, I can see that God is working in their life,” the director said. “People asking for prayer are Sunni Muslims, extremist Muslims too. It’s more than preparing the soil, we’re already putting down the seeds.
With rare, official permission, the ministry has an unprecedented opportunity to distribute aid in more areas of the country as ISIS militants have been driven from cities they had seized. Syria’s civil war involves a complex set of factions, however, and the opportunity to provide aid and gospel literature may not last long, the director said.
“We have to take this opportunity now, because things could change – ISIS is not totally gone,” he said. “It’s more than a golden opportunity to move more deeply – we have access everywhere, anywhere.”
The Arabic-language, “Life of Jesus” books distributed with relief items cost $110 for each 100 sent. Relief items have been donated, but the director appealed to Christian Aid Mission donors to provide assistance to buy Christian literature to bring eternal life to displaced people suffering in Syria.
*Name changed for security reasons