“What a unique time it is to live in this moment in history,” a Syrian Christian living in Damascus wrote to ICC. “The biggest challenge for the church is to get involved at such a time and to take part in the story that many generations from now will be speaking about.”
Syria’s civil war has now claimed more than 33,000 lives, activists say. In August alone, nearly 5,000 people were killed in the conflict’s deadliest month to date. The victims have included those from every political movement and religious affiliation in the country, including Sunnis—the majority of whom support the Free Syrian Army—and Alawites who generally back President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria’s Christians have also suffered and many find it hard to choose sides. While they desire political reform and greater freedoms—like many of their Sunni countrymen—they remember the outcome of war in Iraq and revolution in Egypt and fear the growing threat of extremism if Assad if overthrown.
“I am concerned if the regime is toppled, Syria will fall in to the hands of extremists. Nobody will protect the rights of the Christians. Look at what happened to the Christians in Egypt and Iraq. Christians keep losing,” said Kalach, a Syrian Christian businessman, echoing the fears of many Christians.
No doubt, persecution will increase if the regime is toppled. Rebels from al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist networks have infiltrated into the Free Syrian Army to “make jihad in the name of Allah” and “restore” Syria as an “Islamic caliphate”. Yet, despite uncertainly over Syria’s future, Christians have found greater purpose, knowing that they must not stand idly by while their countrymen are slaughtered. Christians are laying down their lives to share the love of Christ and to aid anyone—whether supporters of the opposition or of the regime—who is in need.
“The reason we are here is stronger than the [bullets] we hear or the curfews in place for our safety,” said the Christian in Damascus. “We are truly seeing His mighty hands in the life of our Church and people. We are seeing doors to share the truth with many of the Syrian people. I can’t fathom all the doors God is opening up for the Church to speak the truth into people’s lives.”
Christians are among the earliest groups woven into Syria’s multi-religious fabric. While the threat of radical Islam is of grave concern, Christians have put their trust in Christ alone and know that the church will continue to endure and even prosper as it has for nearly 2,000 years.
“We, the church, will continue to look forward to the future of the church and hold onto the unique challenges we face,” the Christian in Damascus continued. “Many are talking about wiping out Christianity in this land… But the fact that the followers of Jesus in Acts 11 were first called Christians in Antioch, Syria was no coincidence. God never stopped watching over Christians in Syria. Close to 2,000 years Christianity existed in Syria and it will never seize to exist. On the contrary, the church is growing and will continue to grow!”
Please pray for the church in Syria who, despite facing escalating persecution, have chosen to stay in their homeland to offer hope—found in Christ alone—and minister to those in need.
“Let Allah be avenged on the polytheist apostate!”
“Allah: empower your religion, make it victorious against the polytheists!”
“Allah, defeat the infidels at the hands of the Muslims!”
Those were the prayers just before the beheading of a Christian convert from Islam in a video released on June 4. The calls to “avenge Allah” that preceded the execution—which reportedly took place in Tunisia—have become commonplace for many Middle Eastern Christians. Radical Islam has quickly spread throughout the region following the ousting of long-standing dictators in the Muslim world’s so-called ‘Arab Spring.’
In Egypt, for example, a leaflet titled, “An Urgent and Important Notice,” was distributed by jihadist organizations on August 14 calling for Muslims to “kill or physically attack the enemies of the religion of Allah—the Christians in all of Egypt’s provinces, the slaves of the Cross, Allah’s curse upon them…” The letter went on to promise a reward to anyone who helps “achieve Allah’s rights against his enemies.”
Not surprising, attacks on the Christian community followed soon after. In the Upper Egypt town of Sohag, four Christian shops were set ablaze and dozens of Christians were severely beaten just days after the leaflets were distributed.
Similar threats are now surfacing in Syria where entire cities have been emptied of Christians while Sunni jihadists, who were fighting alongside al-Qaeda against U.S. forces in Iraq, are returning to fight the regime at home.
“We have experience now fighting the Americans, and more experience now with the Syrian revolution,” said Abu Thuha, an al-Qaeda operative. “Our big hope is to form a Syrian-Iraqi Islamic state for all Muslims, and then announce our war against Iran and Israel, and free Palestine.”
In a recently released video on YouTube, masked men that claim to belong to the Free Syrian Army hold AK-47s in front of two al-Qaeda flags. “We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of Allah,” said a speaker in the video. The video is the latest bit of evidence suggesting that al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are hijacking the Syrian revolution and quickly gaining control of the country.
According to Agenzia Fides, the official Vatican news agency, Syria’s Salafis—who follow the radical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam found in Saudi Arabia—is another group carrying out “brief executions” against Christian “infidels” while initiating a “sectarian war.” These Christians are given a choice to either join the opposition or face “harassment, discrimination, [and] violence.
The surmounting threats and routine killings of Christians have persuaded hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee the region. Christians in Syria and Egypt often express their fears by referencing the decline of Christianity in Iraq, where about 50 percent of Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled the country amidst nearly a decade of church bombings, kidnappings, and sectarian murder. Will the faithful in other Middle Eastern countries join Iraq’s mass exodus of Christians? Now, more than ever before, Christians in the Middle East are seeking the prayers and support of the international church during this period of great suffering and uncertainty.
The persecution of Christians is quickly escalating in war-torn Syria. On July 23, an entire Christian family was brutally murdered by Islamists in the Damascus neighborhood of Bab Tuma. According to the Catholic News Agency, Islamists from the rebel group Liwa al-Islam, meaning “The Brigade of Islam”, ordered Nabil Zoreb, a Christian civil officer, his wife Violet, and his two sons George and Jimmy to get out of the car. The militants opened fire, killing them all.
Due to the rising threat of Islamists, Christians have fled Syrian cities in the thousands. The besieged city of Homs, for example, has been nearly emptied of its Christian community in recent months.
“The armed [rebels] in Syria [have] murdered more than 200 Christians in the city of Homs, including entire families with young children. These gangs kidnapped Christians and demanded high ransoms. In two cases, after the ransoms were paid, the men’s bodies were found,” a priest in Homs told Barnabas Aid.
Caught in the middle of a showdown between opposition forces and the Syrian army, many Christians fear the prospect of an Islamist-led government if President Bashar al-Assad is deposed. However, the Syrian church refuses to lose hope.
During this period of great suffering and uncertainty, ICC is receiving positive reports from the Syrian church. These Christians are daily confronted by the questions, “Why are we suffering? What is it that we are afraid of? And, how can we serve Jesus in this crisis?” Yet, the Syrian church has responded well to the difficult choices they’ve been forced to make by placing their trust in God’s provision and rejoicing over every new opportunity to share the love of Christ to the poor and hurting.
Syrian Christians are now on the front-lines, facing severe hardship for the sake of the Gospel. They desperately need and seek the prayers of the international church. In an effort to mobilize prayer, we want to share this recent update from a Christian in Damascus. We hope that his words will not only be informative and encouraging, but that they will also lead you to your knees to pray for the Syrian church.
Prayer update from a Christian in Damascus (some information had to be removed for the church’s security): My thoughts have been around our hope in the things that we have been living for as Christians. Recently I began to think and ask myself, “What are we afraid of in this life?” Is it evilness? Is it death that we are trying to avoid? With stories of people being emotionally, physically and psychologically hurt, much blood has been sacrificed in this country. We see people are fighting on both sides claiming to be doing the right thing and in the name of God.
Last month [June] has been hard for us here. We are trying to stay safe and managing our life around curfews. During the last few weeks we slept while hearing the sounds of heavy bullets in the background, which is not easy to sleep through. We think one day we can get used to it, but we are hoping that it won’t get to that point. But, the reason we are here is stronger than the sounds we hear or the curfews in place for our safety. We are truly seeing His mighty hands in the life of our Church and people. We are seeing doors to share the truth with many of the Syrian people. I can’t fathom all the doors God is opening up for the Church to speak the truth into people’s lives.
So many people have fled their cities and towns because of the fighting going on. People have been kicked out of their home by the extremist Muslim. Many did not want to leave, but they have gotten threatened to leave.
- Please pray for the leaders of the church in Syria.
- Please pray for safety of our families, the church, and its people.
- Pray that we can keep holding steadfast to the promise of God to the church and the body of Christ in Syria as we proclaim the Truth of Jesus.
We love you all and we love what God is doing in Syria. Please continue praying for us.