Writer’s Note: Attacks on camps for the displaced in Syria continue, as does the barrage of artillery from the Turkish border. Israel took out Iranian positions in Syria in retaliation for rocket fire. At least 500,000 people have been killed in the war and more than half of Syria’s 22-million (pre-war) residents have fled. What follows is an account of the trauma in microcosm, multiplied by roughly 11-million people.
Syria (CAM) — When Christian Aid Mission partners in one city in Syria met a family who had fled Islamic State (ISIS) atrocities in another, they were shocked at how deeply traumatized the displaced Muslims were.
Rima* and her mother had seen ISIS militants thrash Rima’s brother, and they and other residents had witnessed the terrorists executing Syrian soldiers. The destruction that arrived with ISIS occupation led to Rima’s husband losing his job and, likewise, the flower shop that she and her mother had run lost its market.
“Rima’s family had to stay hidden in a shelter because snipers were everywhere – it was rarely safe to walk around,” the ministry leader said. “One day she saw a soldier that had his legs blown off. He begged for help, but no one was able to get close enough to help him.”
When ISIS took over the city, the terrorists beat residents, raped them and forced them out of their homes, he said.
“Rima’s family was forced to leave and lost everything – their home, their business, and all their possessions,” the leader said. “They felt they had no hope or dignity left. When they moved to a new area, they moved into a place that had only a roof.”
Finding new community outside of Syria
As the ministry team provided them food packages and other basic necessities, they got to know the family and began praying with them, he said. In time Rima and her mother put their faith in Christ.
“They often say that, ‘Although we lost everything, we have gained our Savior, Jesus Christ,’” the leader said. “Rima’s mental health has started to improve through times of prayer and Bible study. She is very artistic and creative, writing poems and meditations that talk about Jesus. Both her and her mom are in a Bible study and have begun to help in the knitting and crochet program.”
At the knitting and crochet venue, displaced women are further healed from trauma as they engage in fellowship and a common purpose of creating clothes and other items to sell.
Carnage and trauma
ISIS militants or sympathizers, along with other jihadist groups, have continued to unleash sporadic assaults, and more are expected following an offensive that Turkey launched in early October in northern Syria to wipe out Kurdish forces that Ankara claims are aligned with Kurdish rebels in Turkey. As Kurdish forces in Syria divert troops to confront the Turkish offensive, they are unable to hold ISIS militants they had captured.
Even before the Turkish offensive, some parts of Syria were still engulfed in military carnage. Earlier in the year native missionaries in Aleppo reported sitting with children, many of them orphans, as bombs hit their area. Besides singing Bible songs to help the children cope, they said they helped them remain calm by counting the seconds between the sound of artillery firing and impact.
As many as 300,000 people may be displaced by the Turkish offensive, which has hit civilian areas that include large Christian populations. Already under-staffed and under-funded in the face of overwhelming need, native missionaries are facing new waves of people suffering inestimable loss.
Kurds and others in northern Syria are facing violence that has become all too familiar in Syria, with 6.6 million people fleeing the country since conflict broke out in 2011 and 6.1 million internally displaced. Among them was a mother of three who locked herself and her children in a bedroom when an ISIS militant got shot outside their home.
“His comrades began to scream and shout for someone to call for help,” the ministry leader said. “The mother and her children locked the door and tried to not make a sound so the terrorists couldn’t hear them.”
As the ISIS militants began to withdraw at 10:30 p.m., she saw an opportunity for the family to escape.
“They opened the door and started to run, but suddenly the terrorists started to shoot at them from the hotel nearby,” the leader said. “She remembers her and her kids terrified and screaming, but the Lord protected them as they ran, and not a bullet hit them.”
Finding a new ‘normal’
They arrived at the city where they live today with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. The mother had no money for rent or school for her children, and they were all traumatized by the bombing, death and destruction around them, he said.
“Our team met with the family and started to help them with basic necessities and a place to stay,” the leader said. “God’s grace was on them. Her whole family became followers of Jesus and continue to meet for Bible studies with our team.”
Of the hundreds of people who have put their faith in Christ in a dangerous Islamist context, 89 adults and 24 youths have taken baptism in one six-month span this year, he said. Native missionaries train them how to disciple new Christians and identify potential leaders for new congregations.
“The need is overwhelming, as there is large interest in an alternative to Islam, and war has generated overwhelming interest in the hope offered by the gospel,” the leader said. “The needs are too numerous to adequately portray.”
Native missionaries are bringing the hope of the gospel in difficult places such as this throughout the Middle East. Please consider what you can do to help encourage and equip them to establish and disciple new Christians.
*Name changed for security reasons
Headline photo courtesy Christian Aid Mission