Syria (OM/MNN) — The battle for Palmyra intensified yesterday, as Syrian-Russian forces entered the outskirts of the ISIS-occupied ancient city. The push comes 17 days after the offensive to re-take Palmyra began.
According to the Associated Press, gaining control of Palmyra–also known as the “bride of the desert”–would be a significant gain for the Syrian government. Since taking the historic city last spring, the Islamic State has reportedly destroyed two 2,000-year-old temples, an arch, and funerary towers.
As the battle for control of Syria continues, the Lord is winning Syrian hearts.
Ibrahim becomes a leader
*Ibrahim grew up as a rebellious young man, prone to alcoholism. When a Kurdish Christian friend shared the Gospel with him, inviting him to church and explaining that Jesus was his only hope, Ibrahim accepted the invitation. During his very first time in church, God’s Spirit touched him. His life was completely changed, and over the years Ibrahim became a strong leader.
When the war broke out in his region of Syria, thousands of people gathered in the parks with no work, no income, no food, and no drink. Ibrahim and others called upon OM workers in Syria, who realized: “We must help!” Since then, OM has helped to provide thousands with aid and relief on a monthly basis.
Joe explained that through his longtime relationship with Ibrahim and pastors like him, OM has been able to partner with a number of Syrian churches.
Planting churches in the chaos
Early on in the war, Joe had a clear sense from the Lord that the city Ibrahim lived in would be destroyed. Joe shared his concerns with Ibrahim and challenged him to leave the city and go into an unreached area where no churches had been planted yet. The Lord confirmed this message to Ibrahim, and he was willing to go.
He left the city with his wife and two children and moved to a small town surrounded by hundreds of other small villages. The new beginning was hard. He and a handful of believers spent much time in prayer, often whole nights of fervent prayer. Eventually a small church was born. It quickly grew to 100 people, and at Easter they had 200 visitors! A strong fellowship was born in the countryside.
Now, Joe continues to mentor Ibrahim, mostly via Skype. In the past year it has become almost impossible for the believers in this specific area to travel because it is too dangerous. “Whenever Ibrahim has the opportunity to come out of Syria, we meet up for encouragement, debriefing, and training,” Joe explained.
Ali meets a Kurdish Christian
“Impossible,” *Ali, a Muslim Kurdish man from Aleppo, Syria, used to say. “No Kurds are Christians!”
Ali and his family fled the constant shelling and unemployment in his city and moved to the same town as Ibrahim. There, he was trying to feed his family on $30 USD a month. When some believers visited with a food package, he was amazed. He had never met Kurdish Christians before. They challenged him to come to church and see for himself. Ali accepted the invitation, loved the church and today his whole family has come to know Christ.
“People need help. There are many stories like this,” Joe shared. “We work with six churches in Syria. Even if we can no longer enter into the country, our long-term relationships mean we are still able to bring aid.”
“We are not leaving.”
In the east of Syria, an area where most of the church members have left, there are two churches where the elders have decided to stay. “Because God has put us here,” they said. Joe emphasized that this takes much courage.
Ahmed has a Dream
Some years ago, *Ahmed had a dream about Jesus. He also listened to a sheik [Muslim leader] share about Jesus in the mosque and how Jesus had raised people from the dead [this is part of the Koran)]. He wanted to ask more questions, but the sheik brushed him off, saying, “You can’t understand this!”
Ahmed started searching for a New Testament but could not find one. When the war came, he fled to Turkey where he met Kurdish believers and managed to get a Bible. In three months, he read through all of the New and the Old Testament. He also started to help other refugees with food and shared how Jesus loved them. Recently, he moved back to Syria and has asked for prayer; it is a very difficult situation.
There is no easy solution to the Syrian conflict, and no easy way to help all the people in desperate need of help. However, we as Christ-followers serve a God reigning high above the plats and schemes of man.
- Please pray for peace in Syria.
- There are many Ibrahims, Alis, and Ahmeds; pray that they will not lose hope but see God at work in their everyday lives.
- Pray for pastors and elders leading churches, where many of their members have left as refugees and where many seekers come.
- Pray that OM will be able to continue supporting the Christian ministry in Syria through practical aid and spiritual encouragement.
*Name changed for security