Threats change, hope remains.
War. Persecution from Islamic State. Economic collapse. Now COVID-19. Beleaguered Syria faces threat after threat, but no evil can stop the church from being a centre of hope.
The Covid-19 lockdown devastated livelihoods and brought great fear of further spread in Syria. The war almost completely destroyed the health system. Thanks to years of faithful partnership from people like you, many churches were in a position to take immediate action to help the people worst affected.
These churches are Centres of Hope. Open Doors has turned 110 ordinary churches into Centres of Hope, reaching out to help people when they need it most. That’s 20% of the churches in Syria – with an ambition to reach many more with an effective model of community transformation.
Pastor George’s Alliance church in Qamishli, Syria is now a Centre of Hope. Since the crisis began, George has followed God’s call to stay in Syria to keep the church alive. In that time, he’s witnessed around 1 million believers flee his country, reducing the number of Christians from 1.8 million to 800,000.
The extremist ideology of Islamic State is still a strong presence in the region, meaning many Christians don’t feel safe at home. Syria is still number 11 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the most dangerous places to be a Christian. Just as Open Doors was planning to scale back emergency food distribution and help people towards self-sufficiency instead, then came Covid-19.
“When we saw the increased need, we restarted the distribution. We gave people food and washing detergent coupons. Our church saw that now was a time to stand by the people, support them and show Jesus’ love in difficult times,” says the pastor.
The lockdown restricted movement, meaning many Christians who work as daily labourers lost their income overnight.
“Because I’m a pastor I can move more freely in the city, so I can provide for the needy families. The need is not just material. Many people are weary and afraid, so I prayed with them. I visited some sick people and comforted them.”
Keeping in touch is critical for many of George’s congregation, because around 30% are believers from a Muslim background who have been cut off from their family or usual support network because of their decision to follow Christ. George has found ways to become ‘family’ for those who’ve lost theirs.
For Syrians, as for so many of us around the world, the lockdown has meant going to church online . “We try to stay in touch,” George explains. “I created a WhatsApp group. Everyone prays and shares their thoughts and feelings. Many were encouraged that the church cares for them.”
Mourad* manages Open Doors’ work through local church partners in Syria, and is excited about the potential to expand the number of churches becoming Centres of Hope. It is a critical way for the church to fulfil its role as light in the darkness.
“The Church in Syria, like this church in Qamishli, could not see their congregations suffer and do nothing about it,” says Mourad.
“People are hungry,” said another worker. “Some called me, crying because they have no food for their kids and families. We opened the Good Shepherd Centre only for two hours, to distribute food coupons, and around 80 families came.”
Pastor George has a message for everyone who has supported Syria for years, as well as those who have given recently during the Covid-19 crisis. He says, “Thank you for your help to make that possible. This is really a hard situation. Of course, we cannot help them with all their needs, but we can offer them the basics. Please continue to help us in this.”
Pastor George asks us to pray:
“Pray that the people stand firm in Jesus and stay in the country.”
“Pray that the economy will recover.”
“Pray that their basic needs will be met. I often see people searching the garbage bins for food in the streets.”
“Pray that there will be job opportunities for the people.”