Syria (MNN) — God’s light shines brightest in the darkest places. During tough times, our frail human minds can almost grasp the full reality of God’s power–almost.
In Syria, we can see God working even as we watch from the outside. Steve Van Valkenburg is the Middle East Director for Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions. He shares with us some of the details of the tragedy and crisis in Syria, and how we can do more than just watch.
Nearly all of the Christians of Syria have moved out for fear of their life. However, for those who are left, the opportunities to share the Gospel are all around.
Van Valkenburg explains: “One of our ministries we help was visiting in Syria, visiting churches there, and up to 90% of the Christians have left; but at the same time, the churches were more than full. They were full of people who are considered Muslim, but they wanted to come to hear God’s Word preached, and there was a real hunger there.”
Van Valkenburg says that these traditional Muslims asked for literature and New Testaments. Why are these people of such a strong cultural religion seeking answers from another religion altogether?
Van Valkenburg thinks he knows the answer: “They’re looking for something that will give them hope and give them comfort, give them life: something solid, because all the visible supports of life have left them. They really see no hope; often they’re trapped in Syria. They’re not sure what to do. And then God’s light has a way of shining in the darkest places, and right now there’s a lot of evil and darkness within Syria.”
Many of Christian Aid’s partner ministries working in Syria focus on children’s ministry. Many times the parents stick around and listen to what their children are being taught. “Often, they want to hear the Gospel, they want to hear God’s Word preached, they want to know the truth.”
What they have believed and practiced all their life has not been enough to sustain them through hardship.When they look around at believers, they know they are missing something. “I think also they see the joy. I think they see the stability and the confidence of the Christians even though they know the Christians are being targeted. And they see these people and their great faith, and so there is a great desire to find out what is truth, what the Bible says about Jesus Christ,” says Van Valkenburg.
There are some people who believe that it’s not the Christians we should be worried about, but the persecution of Sunni Muslims in Syria instead. Van Valkenburg says in reply, “There is a sense where everybody has been targeted. I mean all kinds of people there are getting killed. But at the same time, there’s no question: [a] lot of rebels are definitely targeting Christians.”
For all of the people there, Van Valkenburg agrees that conditions are dangerous and horrific, and that we should all be in prayer for them. “The things they’re going through in Syria are the kind of [crises] on a scale probably 100 times more than most of us ever face.”
The cold has become a big problem for Syrians. Many are dressed in summer clothes, having fled from home just with what was on their back. Whether sleeping in tents or in actual four-walled buildings, many are forced to sleep on the cold floor. Even if a family is fortunate enough to have a portable stove, fuel is much too expensive to keep it going. Without proper protection from the cold for Syrians, the deaths by freezing may increase in these next three months of winter.
As for the Christians remaining in Syria, there are mixed emotions of joy and fear: “For the most part, they’ve stayed there for the purpose of reaching others with the Gospel. They’re the people who are laying their lives on the line because they really believe in what the Bible teaches. And their lives [are] expendable because they see this is the most important thing: [that] they can reach their own people with the Gospel. They have a great love for their own people, [and a] love for Jesus Christ, and they want their people to become believers also in Jesus.”
Van Valkenburg shares a story of a minister in Syria who wants to leave the country. He is scared for his daughters and wife, and he feels opposition every day. Something terrible could happen any day. Some Christians are called to leave, some to stay.
We can look at this situation in Syria and be encouraged by the perseverance of our brothers and sisters. We can be discouraged by the violence against them. Or we can take action.
Van Valkenburg adamantly urges us not to look to prayer as a trite religious practice, but as something of real substance and strength surrounding these trials in Syria. Pray for all of the residents of Syria, and specifically for the work and safety of the Christians remaining there.
As the hunger for the Gospel grows, Christian Aid and their partners are in need of Gospel literature, New Testaments, and Children’s Bibles. And since many of the people they are ministering to cannot read, there is a need for audio Scripture DVDs with Gospel segments.
Another need is purely physical but is an opportunity to open doors to the Gospel. These people are not only cold, but they are starving. Basic foods are either non-existent in Syria or too expensive to purchase.
Your help could save lives, in earthly and eternal senses. “When you have brothers and sisters in Christ in other places like that, that don’t have basic things, then I think there is a place for us to come alongside and to provide for those physical needs. [We can help them] reach out to the people around them, whether they’re Christian or not Christian, to help them with those basics because they’re all suffering together.” Van Valkenburg sees this generosity as a way to demonstrate God’s love to the lost.