Iktimal in Syria lost everything when armed militia took over her village. Here’s how she found hope at a Centre of Hope run by local Open Doors partners.
“We had a big house and many olive fields,” Iktimal remembers. “One year, the harvest gave us enough to buy two houses. We also had a driving school with about 50 cars. We had a very good life. We had no idea that our stable life would end.”
Iktimal and her family were very well-off. Some would even call them wealthy. She and her husband had six children, then aged between two and 16 years old, and lived in a village near Idlib, Syria. Their comfortable, middle-class life changed overnight.
Armed militia started bombing the area and threatening the people living there, particularly targeting her village because of the Christian population. “They wanted money; they said my husband and son would be taken away and that we would never see them again,” says Iktimal. “My father-in-law was 90 years old at that time. The militia didn’t even care about that; they just threatened all people.”
And then an incident happened that confirmed to Iktimal and her husband that the threats should be taken seriously.
“One day they killed a cousin of ours, and we got so scared that they would kill my husband too. We fled the village. We escaped in the early morning, about 3am. I remember looking back at our house, thinking we would never see it again.”
About 20 Christians in Iktimal’s village were killed. Her family stayed with relatives for a few months but couldn’t afford to find their own place. When people at a Centre of Hope run by Open Doors partners in Latakia saw the situation, they rushed to support Iktimal’s family with a home and much more.
"I experience the love of God as the church stands with us." Iktimal
“They helped us with everything, with mattresses, blankets, gas,” says Iktimal. “They also gave us a monthly food package, clothes, stationery for the children. When they saw our need, they helped. I never expected that. I experience the love of God as the church stands with us.”
Centres of Hope are places (often church buildings) where the local church can support their community practically and spiritually. The activities and provision differ depending on the context, but often include vital food and medical aid, Bible study and discipleship, training, income-generating projects and trauma care. They’re run thanks to the gifts and prayers of Open Doors supporters.
Through this Centre of Hope, Iktimal received emotional, psychological and spiritual support. “They prayed with us, they listened to our story, they stood with us,” says Iktimal. “God was with us. He sent those people to stand by us, they were like angels. Their love brought us closer to Jesus; they taught us about the love of God.”
Of course, Iktimal misses her village. “We miss everything there - our house, the house of my parents, the church they destroyed.” Now, the village is still in the hands of extremist groups. “There is no safety there. If we would return now, they would kill us. The extremists are living in our house. Where extremists there wanted to kill us, the church here has loved us. It feels like being raised from death.”
As Iktimal says, “For God, nothing is impossible.” She still hopes that she and her family will one day be able to return home. But, in the meantime, she is getting much-needed practical and spiritual support from the Centre of Hope – and contributing in return. Iktimal now has a job at the Centre of Hope, helping in the children’s ministry.
"When all doors were closed for us, we found this place and started to love life again." Iktimal
“I am working on the bus that picks children up at their homes, and get the children safely back after they’ve attended the activities,” she says. “Education at the schools in Syria is very bad. No parent can afford the extra lessons the school children need – and the Centre of Hope offers extra tutoring for free. That is very important.”
Iktimal knows how crucial Centres of Hope remain, for offering life-sustaining support. “The Centre gives joy and peace,” she says. “When all doors were closed for us, we found this place and started to love life again.”
You can make hope last for many other families in Syria and Iraq today, with your prayers and support. Thank you for all you’ve done during the Hope for the Middle East campaign so far.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.