Syria. If you drive to the northern most point in Israel, you can look at its southern border. That’s how close it is to Jerusalem; even closer to the Sea of Galilee. Saul of Tarsus is on the road to Damascus, a city in the south of Syria, when he’s blinded. According to today’s statistics, Christians in Syria have dwindled from 30% in the 1920s to about 11% or less today (BBC). The Voice of Martyrs puts the current number of Christians as 5.9%. When we look at the population as a whole, according to the Catholic News Agency, “Over 280,000 people have died since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011. Another 12.8 million people have been forced from their homes.” It’s a place rife with challenges no matter what, and especially if you’re a Christian.
Christians In Syria Amid The Violence
The war with ISIS and the horrible atrocities of Assad have made it nearly impossible for Christians to live. On the one hand, ISIS wants them dead both for their infidel status and their supposed support of the Assad government; on the other, the president who has been seen as a protector, has killed many civilians if the reports are accurate. To further complicate the story, Russia is in the mix as an Assad supporter (and the US is wielding its influence as well). What a mess of mangled war, politics and altogether uncertainty.
Father Jacques Mourad is a Catholic monk in Syria. ISIS captured him in 2015, along with 250 other Christians, only to release many of them several months later. When asked about the state of Christians in Syria, he said, “They are wondering how all this could have happened. But then they give thanks to God and place themselves in His hands. I haven’t seen people rebel against God.” For now, Father Mourad is hosting Mass underground with both Catholics and Orthodox in attendance. It reminds me of the catacombs in Rome, where secret symbols and careful planning associated the worship of God because of similar severities.
Father Mourad is one of many who have forfeited so much in this war-torn country. Open Doors ranks Syria #6 in their list of most persecuted countries, just behind North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan. The faithfulness of the Christians in Syria is surely remarkable, and the Lord is at work. The Voice of Martyrs, for example, tells the story of Rasima and Fadia, two sisters who say the Lord appeared to each of them in a dream. They woke up and searched for a church and finally found an unassuming building with Bibles scattered on a table. On that day, the Gospel was shared to them, and, “Before leaving, both had placed their faith in Christ. Since that day, the spiritual wounds caused by their harsh Shiite Muslim upbringing have begun to heal. Over the past year, they’ve become very involved in serving in the church. Even though heavy bombing has occurred in their area, they have chosen to stay in Damascus to disciple other young women at the church.”
How do we pray? Pray for peace, for boldness, for our Christian brothers and sisters to show unwavering love to those in the church (for they will know us by our love) and for the enemies prowling around outside the church. Pray that God will rise up a “Saul of Tarsus” among ISIS… on the Damascus Road or anywhere in Syria. Pray for Assad (because we’re told to pray for leaders), that he will kind and moral and honest. Pray for foreign powers involved in the conflict, that wisdom might be exacted in this very difficult situation. Pray for the mom and dad that grieve for their families. Pray that we might open up our homes and churches to refugees from this part of the world.