Syria (ODM/MNN) — Thousands proclaimed a "Friday of Rage," with mobs of
Syrians taking to the streets against the government's heavy handed crackdown
of a six-week uprising.
They were calling for the ouster of
President Bashar al-Assad even as tanks rolled through the streets to crush the
anti-government resistance. In the meantime, the United States announced
sanctions against Syria's intelligence agency and two of the president’s relatives
in response to his government's crackdown on protests.
On the face of it, the picture appears to be a noble one of a
rising voice for freedom being silenced by a dictator. However, there's another scenario being
whispered in the background that is far more sinister. Carl Moeller of Open
Doors USA says, "There's a strong indication that some of these rebels in the
country are influenced by Iran and even perhaps Iranian backing on the
Their apprehension stems from what could happen if there's
success in the revolt and a vacuum of power.
Moeller explains that "the Christians there that we're working with are
quite concerned that if there are extremists mobilizing in the rebellion and
they overthrow Assad, without any clear replacement in place, there could be a
period of time–perhaps even a permanent situation–where Iran or other
extremist nations use their influence to make it very, very difficult for the
Simply put, "Under Assad, there was relative stability—albeit limited freedoms, but relative stability in the country which allowed
for protection for the Christian communities."
Syria has a Christian population of approximately 1.5 million believers
which is 8 to 9 percent of the total population of the country. They are
members of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant denominations. While the church of
Syria is not a hidden or secret church, the evangelical church often faces
problems when it reaches out with the Gospel.
Open Doors reported that some churches in Syria cancelled their Easter
services because of the unstable political situation. Easter weekend was one of
the bloodiest since the riots and anti-government demonstrations started in
mid-March. The Associated Press reported 120 deaths last weekend across Syria and
a total of 450 deaths since the unrest began.
"The current situation in Syria is very uncertain for Christians in the
country," says Rany, an Open Doors co-worker. "Look at the population of Syria, he states.
"It is a mix of minorities of Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Druzes,
Kurds and others; that is potentially an explosive mix. I see a possible clashing of these minorities in which I think Christians will be possible
victims of much violence."
it's this situation that keeps believers mute at a time when people want to be
heard. Rany explains that "because of
the fear of a worsening situation, churches are silent in the midst of the
anti-government protests. They are not involved in the protests against the
president. They don't want to attract attention to themselves."
goes on to say, "Right now we try to distribute literature and offer training
to Christians. It is still possible to do this, but we don't know for how long.
Last year, Open Doors had training seminars about persecution and suffering for
Syrian Christians. This training is meant as preparation for persecution."
some of our courses, which were scheduled to start, had to be cancelled for
now. The church that would have hosted the course thought it was better to
postpone it because they thought that some of the participants would not come
because of the current situation."
Moeller says, "What we can be praying for is, first of all,
protection. People have been killed. When there's violence in the streets like
this, Christians are often caught in the crossfire. Secondly, [we can pray] that they would be
able to have perhaps more freedom and at least the opportunity to continue to
have a role to play in that country."
The Syrian Body of Christ spent the end of last week in
fasting and prayer for their country as the chaos rose to a fever pitch over
the weekend. It's an example others can
be heartened by. "We can draw strength
from the fact that they are standing strong in the middle of this storm that
their encouragement to us is to be watchful in prayer for them and to know that
they're still sharing Jesus Christ, despite the hardships that they're facing."