“We thought the war would be over after our honeymoon”
What is it like to have your marriage day approach when a nation is heading for war?
What are the challenges for a young married couple, when this day is followed by ten years of war? How difficult was it to start a family amid this crisis?
For many people it’s usually seen as the most beautiful or important day of their life. Many men and women dream about this day where their life as a couple begins.
Nagham Issa, then a 35-year- old woman, had been dreaming about this day for a long time. Marrying Mousa Sankari, then a 38-year-old man, the love of her life, her fiancée for two years. But while the couple was planning for this beautiful day, unrest that led to the brutal war started, threatening their dreams and putting their future at risk.
Mousa and Nagham welcome me into their warm home in Latakia, Syria. Their two little children are waiting smiling at the door. Christa, born in 2014, wearing a lovely red and blue dress with a ribbon on her head, and Fadi the one-year old son with a denim shirt and jeans with his adorable curly hair.
The couple met in 2004, and were engaged five years later, with plans to be married in 2011.
But in March 2011 the protests and unrest that led to the war started in the south of Syria. Two weeks later in Latakia, people started going out in protests. Then the government imposed a lockdown after 6pm. The Muslims opposed to the government used to go out on balconies to motivate people to rebel. They shouted Islamic phrases. While violence spread over the country, this young couple was uncertain about their future.
“The situation was unprecedented,” Nagham says. “For two or three nights in a row before my wedding I would walk out to the balcony of my house and hear people shouting Islamic phrases, calling for war against the regime and for people to protest. I felt worried, uncertain and I prayed, because I knew that God is good and that He would carry us through.”
They decided to go through with the wedding, thinking life would return to normal after a while and that those protests would fade away. But unfortunately the roads between the cities were closed and travelling was no longer an option. Nearly forty people were unable to attend the wedding because of the closed roads.
Mousa says “Our happiness was incomplete, knowing that our country was going through this crisis, people were dying, some were losing their loved ones. We did not know when this would end. As a young man who is planning to get married and build a family, the uncertainty of the future of my country made me very stressed and put me under a lot of pressure. Every day was a challenge, the instability in the country was very threatening. No one expected the war to escalate into what it became. We thought we should leave for our honeymoon and when we got back it would be over, we went for 8 days to Turkey, and when we got back things were worse than before.”
"I thank God we didn't leave."
After their honeymoon, a new city was being attacked by the rebels every day, and more people were joining the rebel forces. Mousa says “I thought of leaving the country. I prepared our passports and waited to see how the situation developed. If Latakia would witness what other cities in Syria had to go through, we would have left immediately. I say God has protected Latakia and kept us safe. While staying I realized the importance of my role in helping the poor and displaced people in Latakia. I thank God that we didn’t leave.” After a while Latakia became one of the safe havens in Syria for displaced people. God has called Mousa to do great work among them.
When Mousa is asked about the impact of his work that he does with our support he replies, “Our church was one of the first few churches that supported displaced families. To this day we give them food aid, medical aid, rent aid, we invested in income generating projects and have a Centre of Hope. We started as volunteers, helping a few families with whatever money we raised from church members. Now with your help we reach around 800 families with aid, around 120 participants in our Centre of Hope and we have 36 Income-generating projects.
“The economic situation in our country has deteriorated in the past ten years. Now fighting is limited to certain areas, one might think the economic situation would be better. The opposite is true. Economically it is the worst time that Syria has gone through. Even those with money can’t find certain products. I struggle to find milk for our one-year-old son. Your support right now is crucial for us as Christians in this difficult time. Your help make us feel that we are not alone. We feel that there is hope for us,”
A Mother's grief
Nagham had worked in a pharmacy with her sister for five years, supporting the family. A few months after her wedding she became pregnant. But sadly, because of the situation in the country, Nagham was under a lot of stress and she miscarried. “After that we decided we didn’t want to have a baby before the end of the war. We felt so much stress and anxiety. We saw the situation in Syria getting worse gradually, we saw that life was too unstable and we got scared. After a year and a half, we lost hope that things would get better, so we agreed that we shouldn’t postpone it anymore.”
Nagham sighs and takes a pause to recall her memories. “It was a difficult time, we live on the sixth floor and we didn’t have electricity most of the time, we used to live in the dark. My back ached all the time from the stairs. In 2014 Christa came, during that time we had a milk crisis, there was no milk in the markets. Mousa had to search the whole city to provide us with a few bottles of milk for Christa. In 2019 we had Fadi. We faced another crisis, where there were no medications in the markets. I needed to take injections, but it was extremely hard to find them. After that I stopped working with my sister, I had to make time for my children and stay with them.”
Regarding the future of the children, Mousa and Nagham see the danger of them growing up in Syria. Especially as they see things only getting worse. Mousa, with sadness in his eyes, says “Today there is no gas, no fuel, no electricity, not enough medication, not enough water, not even milk for the children; the situation of the schools is miserable.” He sighs. “Life is difficult in Syria, but God taught me during this war to always fix my eyes on Him and to look away from the destruction and fear, to only rely on God.”
Nagham adds, “I learned from the war what it really means to care for others and stand by them. When I see the displaced people, my heart aches for them and I pray that may God change their circumstances and that may God heal this land and turn it back to the way it was.”
Mousa and Nagham are thankful for our support to the church. “We’ve reached thousands of hungry people during the years, hundreds of sick and homeless people. The war came unexpectedly and it lasted for what feels like a lifetime. Thank you for standing by us, supporting us and caring for Syrians as one body of Christ. Thank you”.
Nagham says: “We’ve recently lost our pastor and his wife due to COVID-19 and the situation of the church now is chaotic. We need prayer so we can have a heavenly appointed pastor who will bring stability, bring believers closer to God and will bring more people to Jesus. We pray he will carry the ministry faithfully as our beloved pastor did. Pray also for protection for us as a family.”
Mousa adds “Pray for protection for the country from COVID as it is spreading wildly and many deaths are being registered. Pray for the children’s future so it will be safe in God’s hands.”
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