Syria (MNN) — Desperation is growing for Syrian believers in Homs. Their spiritual leader Father Frans van der Lugt was killed Monday by a masked gunman. No group has claimed the attack, and the reason for van der Lugt’s death is still unknown.
Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors USA says it’s a tough loss for the handful of Christians left in this besieged city.
“He was the one who helped the elderly and disabled, tried to get food into that area, and was a spokesman for the Syrians on an international basis,” explains Dykstra.
Once home to some 60,000 Christ-followers, Homs has been steadily stripped of most of its believers by Syria’s three-year civil war. Van der Lugt’s dedication gave believers hope; though he could have safely evacuated the city in February, the Jesuit priest refused to leave.
“Even if all Christians leave, then yet I will stay. I am here for Syria,” Van der Lugt had stated. “I want to serve all Syrians, and I want to serve the country of Syria…the country I love.”
Van der Lugt’s murder is leaving the 24 Christians left in Homs in a vacuum of uncertainty.
“They face dwindling supplies and it’s a very dangerous area, and so their future is very unknown,” Dykstra notes. “We just have to pray. They are in God’s hands, and He will keep them safe.”
According to Reuters, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently told a former Russian Prime Minister that “the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended” by the end of 2014. “After that, we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time: fighting terrorists.”
That claim still leaves Syria’s Christians and other religious minorities at-risk. Updated figures put the Syrian war’s death toll at 150,000, and more than 6 million people are displaced within the country. Violence specifically targeting believers is on the rise, moving Syria from #11 on the Open Doors World Watch List to #3.
“The most dangerous country in the world now for martyrs is Syria, which had 1,213 martyrs out of a total of 2,123 [in 2013],” says Dykstra.
“It’s a dangerous situation, but people’s lives are being changed. And we need to pray for them in the West, especially this time of Easter.”
Open Doors works with local believers to deliver emergency supplies to thousands of Syrian families–both displaced families within the country and Syrian refugees in neighboring nations. Aid often includes food, medicine, water, and items to build a shelter.
In both locations, people are responding to Open Doors’ tangible demonstration of Christ’s love.
“Many of the Christians are sharing these supplies with their Muslim neighbors, and many Muslims are coming to Christ because of that,” says Dykstra.
Pray for the safety of these Muslim-background believers, since they face great danger throughout the Middle East. Followers of Islam who convert to Christianity are often regarded as traitors.
Please also pray for believers in Homs who might be struggling to cope with the sudden and unexpected loss of van der Lugt.
“Pray for them to keep the faith and to be strong in the faith, even in the midst of this terrible siege and lack of food,” requests Dykstra.
Pray that physical relief items can reach the city. Above all else, “Pray for peace….That’s what we need to see,” Dykstra notes.
“This has taken a terrible psychological blow, as well as physical blow, for the children of Syria. Many of them have not even gone to school for 3 years; some of them know only war.”