Healing Fun for Syrian Children in Hard Times
After suffering the kidnapping of his youngest son at the hands of Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in Syria, there’s only one thing that will take an indigenous missionary away from serving his people.
Before ISIS lost its last major city in Syria, the militants overran the indigenous missionary’s outpost and kidnapped his 17-year-old son. The Christian worker’s family endured months of anguish as they struggled to gather enough money to pay a ransom.
Providing food, shelter and health care to Syrians displaced by war, the worker was serving his people long before war broke out in 2011, and, unlike many foreign missionaries, he plans to continue serving them long after it ends. After paying a ransom and receiving his son back, he said no disaster or discouragement would drive him from his calling.
“My death is the only way that I would leave this place,” he said.
Between the threat of kidnapping and anxiety over families torn apart by war, it is not easy being a child in Syria. The continual demand for diapers at camps for internally displaced people is not just for babies; many are for older children so traumatized from shelling, instability or losing relatives that they are wetting their beds at night, a visitor learned.
“One of the prayer requests we had as we visited these kids at the camps was, ‘Please pray for my teenage son, my teenage daughter, that they stop wetting the bed so they don’t have to wear diapers anymore,'” he said.
“Kids ask for prayer because they don’t know where their father is, or their brother, or they lost somebody or somebody is dead,” the director said. “They are hurting somewhere.”
This month ISIS was driven out of Raqqa, the terrorist group’s last major stronghold, though guerilla attacks continue, and the government is still fighting rebels from other quarters. As internally displaced people begin trickling back to recaptured cities, however, opportunities are increasing to minister to traumatized children.
An indigenous ministry that has offered children’s programs in nine cities in Syria has just expanded to four more. For children suffering a range of anxieties, the songs, skits and games in the charged atmosphere of hundreds of kids – 800 to 900 on weekends, 80 to 150 at mid-week events – is a natural therapy.
For the younger children there are games, biblical coloring books and skits or clown acts, and then they are ready to hear indigenous youth workers talk about God, Jesus and the gospel.
“We even ask them if there is anything they would like prayer for,” the director of the indigenous ministry said. “Mostly you hear kids asking for prayer because they don’t know where their father is, or their brother, or they lost somebody or somebody is dead. They are hurting somewhere.”
While prayer gives them the opportunity to share pent-up hurts and release them to God, they are also shown films that transport them out of their harsh reality, a respite opening up more space for healing.
Programs for children 14 and older involve board games and encouraging them to talk, as well as films and prayer.
“The good thing about the whole program is that they know it is a Christian program,” the director said. “They know we’re not just doing entertainment, we’re here to pray with them.”
The parents who bring them, 95 percent of them Muslims, are well aware that it is a Christian program. They are glad to see the healing and transformation in their children, and while they don’t usually hang around to observe, they are given the option to have tea or coffee in adjacent waiting areas.
Most of these parents would not say they wish to hear about Christianity, but the director suspects that secretly they do, and the waiting areas give them a safe place to inquire.
“They end up asking questions and knowing more,” he said. “So it is really Jesus the Son of God that reaches them. This is mainly the biggest topic, they ask, ‘Do you really believe in three gods?’ and, ‘What do Christians believe?’ And then coming back to what ISIS is doing, they’ll say that this is not Islam and Islam is more peaceful, and then the subject just opens by itself.”
The parents soon discover that there is a parallel program for adults at the same site that they can attend: a talk-and-discussion session, akin to the Alpha Course, which introduces the basics of Christianity. Another waiting room might have a Bible study for adults. Home Bible study groups form out of these and other outreaches.
In keeping with cultural practice, there are separate waiting areas for men and women, the director said.
“We have more tea and coffee with them and share a small testimony,” he said, “and there is always somebody who is asking them, ‘Why did you come? What are you as parents interested to know?’ And this is how we try to filter those who are interested to know more, and then from there you can do a small Bible study with them, or we have something like the Alpha Course, but it is tailored especially for Muslims and has been working phenomenally.”
The indigenous ministry director said hundreds of Syrians are putting their faith in Christ every year, beams of light on a dark landscape.
“The Muslims respond very well,” he said. “We sincerely thank you for your prayers and support – we cannot do without them.”
A gift to help Syrian workers reach children and their parents will bring relief, healing and salvation amid the darkness.