Syria (MNN) — Last week, rebels in Aleppo launched a new series of attacks against Syrian forces to retake control over parts of the city. Neither sides are following humanitarian guides, and more than 30 civilians were killed over the weekend, including ten children.
For believers who stay in Syria, if you aren’t killed by the shrapnel of war, you could be targeted as a religious minority by ISIS militants. Open Doors USA ranks Syria on their World Watch List as the fifth most volatile country to live in as a Christian.
On the World Watch List fact sheet for Syria, Open Doors describes the situation for Christians there:
The Syrian opposition is increasingly “Islamizing” and the civil war continues to take the form of a jihad against the Syrian government. In the conflict, all Syrians are suffering greatly, but some groups are in a more vulnerable position than others. One of the main features of Syria’s Christian population is its combined ethnic and religious identity. The geographical concentration of Christians in strategic areas of the country that are vital to both the government and the opposition’s war efforts is an important factor in their vulnerability, as is their alleged support for the government.
An Insider’s Perspective
Today, we’re highlighting Syria as we approach the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church coming up this Sunday, November 6th.
We spoke with Brother Michael*, a Syrian Christian and ministry partner with The Voice of the Martyrs, USA. He shared with us the humbling perspective of believers in Syria who stay, literally, in the cross-hairs of danger and persecution.
“I was talking to one of the pastors, leaders in that nation,” says Brother Michael. “His son was attacked, a bullet flew right threw his neck; his other son is under threat, he has a young daughter. And I told him, ‘Why are you still there in Aleppo and serving among this? Why don’t you take your family and rescue them?’
“And he said, ‘If I say Jesus is the ultimate example and He died for me, I’m willing to put my life on the line — like my ultimate example, Christ — for others to know Christ.’… Of course there is death, but [there is] also the beautiful image of the resurrection of people to know Jesus Christ. That’s why they stay and that’s why they remain inside Syria.”
The Example of Ananias
Ultimately, it comes down to the Great Commission being carried out in Syria. And the Syrian believers who stay to reach their neighbors with the Gospel don’t see themselves as heroes of the faith. They simply see themselves as being obedient to their Savior.
Brother Michael shares the biblical example of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from his previous life as Saul, a harsh persecutor of Christians, in Acts 9. When you think about it, Saul was similar to extremist Muslims today in his abuse of believers. This account in God’s Word has become the inspiration for many Syrian Christians in ministry as well.
“Damascus, Syria is the place where the first mission journey came out, it started from Damascus and went all over the world. That’s where Saul was heading on the road to Damascus and he was blinded and saw Jesus in a vision,” says Brother Michael.
“What’s so unique about the story is the local Christian [in Damascus]. When the Lord came to Ananias, an elder of the church, he was hiding from this radical terrorist, [Saul]. The Lord came to him and said, ‘I want you to go find Saul and go lay your hands on him.’…”
“Ananias first said no, but then the Lord said to him, ‘Saul will suffer for my name.’ Out of obedience, Ananias went and he laid hands on Saul, and the scales fell out of his eyes and that’s when Paul was able to see again.”
Brother Michael says Syria is full of many ‘Ananaias’ individuals, committed to sharing the hope of Christ. Because the worst that could happen is their own physical death. But the best that could happen? Another person’s eternal life.
“It’s so powerful how God is using His people today inside Syria. There are Christians inside Syria and they are committed Ananias’s to go in finding those people and laying their hands and the scales are falling from the eyes of people and they are coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is really the story of Syria. It’s not the death story. Is there suffering? Yes, there is suffering. But there are also the dead spiritually who are rising to life.”
Former al-Qaeda Fighter Finds Christ
One testimonial Brother Michael shares features an unlikely Syrian convert:
“In a new church plant, this woman had been coming to the church for a couple months and she was always covered and she’s obviously Muslim, Sunni. After a couple months, she came to one of the leaders in that church and she told him her story.
“She said, ‘I used to be an al-Qaeda fighter. I had an AK-47 and I used to go fight with them and then nurse the injured as well. But I came and I heard the Gospel and I started coming and came to know Christ. I was afraid to tell you because I was afraid you would report me and then I would be arrested.’
Brother Michael remarks, “This is just a beautiful image of what God is doing.”
God in the Muslim Tent
He continues with another miraculous report from the Syrian mission field:
“I was in a camp [in Syria] and I went to visit one of the workers during the holidays last month. As we visited this tent, I went with the worker and I saw he had his Bible with him, and I was afraid because there was a big gathering of men sitting during the holiday and they’re kind of celebrating, visiting each other.
“He sat and I was praying, ‘I hope he doesn’t share the Gospel,’ because we are in a tent, we are among Muslims — Sunni and Shiite — an intense moment. All these men sitting and gathering, there were women as well sitting.
“All of a sudden, he began to share the Gospel. There was talk, a question, an answer, and he was just strategically answering and answering. One angry man walked out, and as soon as this angry man walked out, the Lord began to move,” Brother Michael recounts.
“One woman stood up and she said, ‘I saw Jesus in a dream,’ in the midst of that group, and then another woman, and a new woman came into that gathering and she said she saw also Jesus. So we began just in two hours period of time hearing about three different stories of people seeing Jesus in dreams and visions.
“It was just a moment where we opened the Gospel and people right there confessed Christ.”
The Great Commission in Action
Bottom line: the Church in Syria is blossoming and growing through the power of the Holy Spirit and the bold witness of God’s people. Despite persecution, despite physical displacement or fear, despite even the threat of death, the purpose of God cannot be stamped out in this country whose very roots are embedded deep in the history of Scripture and the story of Salvation.
As you pray today for and with Syria, Brother Michael asks us to pray as the believers in Syria do.
“We used to pray, ‘Lord, when is this war going to end? Hasn’t enough blood been sacrificed? Haven’t enough Christians been killed? Haven’t enough churches been destroyed?’
“But after we begin to see people are coming to know Christ in huge numbers, we begin to realize our prayer, our heart…the Church began to pray, ‘Lord, let your will be done.’ The Lord has begun even to convict us to see He is showing in the midst of hardship, and he’s bringing our people to know Him. This is the beautiful image of today of the Church in Syria.”
Brother Michael offers three more specific prayer points as well:
- Protection — “One of the things, we need to pray for the protection of the Church. They’re under attack from all different perspectives. We need to pray for the Christian leaders inside Syria. They’re faithful, they’re loyal to their nation as well, and they love their people. But people attack them. People accuse them of things, false accusations, even within governments. But they are loyal to the Kingdom of God and they are loyal to their nation.”
- Biblical Foundation — “The few who remain have to deal with the multitude coming, so how do you disciple the multitude with only a few of you? One of the things is to [pray for] how God can equip, because we want a biblical Church. We don’t want heresies. We want to try to wrap our arms around the growing Church before heresy comes in and destroys it, especially from other religions coming in, false teachings.”
- Healing — “Pray as well for protection for our women and children, specifically the children. We think about counseling sometimes, but this is impossible. You can bring all the counselors from all around the world trying to help in Syria, but they cannot do the job because it is impossible. But God can, and through the Church. So pray that God can use the Church to bring healing into the lives of the people of Syria too.”
*Name changed for security purposes.