“This war is like a knife in the heart of the church. No human can stand that suffering. But there is God’s presence. I can see Christ in the midst of darkness.” VOM National Contact
Most of us have seen the graphic images of bombed out Syrian cities and citizens killed by chemical weapons. But amid these stories of chaotic civil war and tragedy is another, less publicised story. Christian churches in Syria continue to spread hope in the face of hopelessness, holding high not a political or denominational banner but the banner of Jesus Christ – the only path to salvation and peace with God. Before the outbreak of war, an evangelical church in one of Syria’s largest cities held several services a week for worship and prayer.
Today, it holds twice as many services, and most are standing-room only.
A VOM contact who recently visited a Syrian church told us that his first thought upon entering was that he’d accidentally walked into a mosque. He saw so many headscarves and long beards that it appeared to be a crowd of Muslims! Our contacts are reporting many encouraging stories of Muslims coming to know Christ in a variety of ways. More than 70 Muslim families have turned to Christ in an area of Syria where only a dozen or so Christians existed 18 months ago. A former mullah who watched Muslim radicals from different Islamic sects kill each other while shouting “Allah is great!” began to wonder, “What kind of god are we worshipping?” Then he visited a church and learned about the God who doesn’t demand killing, but rather sacrificed His own Son for our sake. His heart was moved to follow Jesus.
A woman who had been paralysed for 10 years from a stroke testified that she was healed after a Christian friend prayed for her in Jesus’ name. After experiencing His power, she gratefully committed her life to the Jesus who heals.
Syrian Christians often face persecution from their own families. A military officer who had converted to Christianity was forced into hiding when members of his family tried to have him killed for bringing shame on the family name. Despite the threats, he said he would never give up his faith.
These are just a few examples of how the Holy Spirit is working among Syrians who are facing unthinkable hardships. “When somebody comes to Christ, individually, it makes a big difference,” said one of VOM’s Syrian contacts. “When you hear about one Muslim coming to Christ, it’s a great thing, and everybody rejoices.
“Today in Syria I’m not talking about one person. We’re talking about hundreds and even thousands of Muslims coming to know Christ.” Still, our Christian brothers and sisters are no less affected by the horrors and hardships of war than other Syrians. A Syrian pastor told VOM workers that he has electricity only three hours per day and that many other parts of the country are worse. Recently, a group of Christians driving along a 60km stretch of road encountered 23 checkpoints, manned by armed fighters from different sides of the conflict and even different factions within each side. Each nerve-racking checkpoint provides the potential for trouble and death, and the paperwork or dropped name that got you through the last checkpoint might raise eyebrows or gun barrels at the next.
Syria is being ripped apart by bombs and hatred
The civil war in Syria is serving to strengthen the church and tear down denominational barriers. Christian groups that five years ago might have questioned each other’s salvation are now gathering for weekly prayer, asking God to move in their nation and in their churches. Through prayer and fellowship, they are becoming true representatives of Christ’s Body in Syria.
We continue to equip, help and encourage these Christians who continue to minister and reach out even as their country is ripped apart by bombs and hatred. While VOM provides some basic humanitarian assistance to Christians affected by this crisis, our principal focus will always be to empower and equip the church to represent Christ even amid suffering.
VOM recently held a pastors’ conference to offer Syrian pastors a time of worship, fellowship and training. Each pastor was blessed and encouraged not only by the training they received but also by meeting and fellowshipping with other pastors serving in difficult circumstances. With the help of our church partners in Syria, VOM will distribute New Testaments, Bibles and Bible studies this year and we are planning to deliver even more Bibles. We are also working to provide material assistance to those who have lost much in the war. VOM continues to support and equip evangelists who are sharing the Gospel in Syria as well as those reaching out to Syrian refugees outside the country. We are working with Christians in neighbouring countries to provide practical assistance and Gospel materials to Syrian refugees in those countries.
“They are seeking hope, and they have nothing,” a VOM contact said. “They lost their house. They lost family members. They lost some of their children. And they are holding onto the hope that we have through Jesus Christ.”