Syria (MNN) — Lurid pictures of two crucified men dominated a Twitter feed from Syria this week. They were two of seven killed by extremists holding the town of Raqqa.
Earlier this year, it seems the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) got so radical that al Qaeda distanced itself and considered ISIS’ tactics a liability, notes the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Tom Doyle, Vice President and Middle East expert for E3 Partners says of the crucifixions, “We’ve heard of this happening quite a bit in Syria. It hasn’t been getting covered on major networks. I’ve seen occasional stories, but when I first heard this story, it reminded me of one that I’d heard, sadly, two weeks ago.”
It isn’t just Christians being targeted by the extremist group. In this case, the Muslim victims were executed for being part of an enemy faction.
These factions continue to battle amidst the insurgency against President Al-Assad, which has seen more than 100,000 killed and millions made homeless since the first peaceful demonstrations against the Syrian regime in 2011. It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence. “With Iran backing the Alawites, and the Arab nations backing the Sunni Muslims, it just seems like there are endless amounts of fanaticism, weapons, money, and they’re going to fight to the death.”
Doyle further observes, “I think if you watch the news, you just have to conclude that it’s a lost cause.” However, new stories that partners are sharing are bringing a lot of hope. There was an “imam’s story this week where he announced to his family and to his village: ‘I was asleep in the religion of Islam, but Jesus woke me up and gave me eternal life.’ These are the stories that we long to hear, so we know that Jesus has not forgotten about Syria.”
Hope is desperately needed in this part of Syria. ISIS is attempting to impose a strict Islamic ideology on Syrians across the region. They reportedly have complete control of the following towns: Keftin, Tal Rifat, Azaz, Ad Dana, Dar Ta Izzah, Binnish, Taqqa, Ma’arrat, Misrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab, while many others are said to contain a strong ISIS “presence.” But after stories like the imam’s, it proves that “The Gospel is growing in Syria.”
And yet, Christian leaders in Raqqa signed an agreement to pay a protection tax and consent to the demands of the militant Muslim group now controlling their city. The extremists offered them three choices: convert to Islam, submit to Islam as dhimmis (subjugated, second-class citizens), or “face the sword.” The effect of this on minority groups within the region, including Syria’s Christians, is a cause of growing concern. “Pray for the believers to be strong and bold. We pray for the Lord to continue to move in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis in the last 30 years.”
The conditions imposed on the believers prohibit repairing any church building, publicly displaying crosses or other symbols of Christianity, and conducting services outside a church building. Even when inside their church buildings, Christians are not allowed to sing or read the Scriptures loud enough for a Muslim standing outside to hear. While these conditions are not true everywhere, Doyle cautions, “We just have to pray for the brave servants of the Lord that are staying in Syria in the midst of this horrific mess where entire Christian villages are being targeted, so we must pray for them.”
Please lift up in prayer the Christians in Raqqa and throughout Syria, asking our Father to strengthen their faith and lovingly protect and watch over them. May He grant them wisdom and discernment, as well as opportunities to effectively proclaim the Gospel. Pray also that many Muslims, including the members of ISIS, will come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way.