Seven years ago, Rober was kidnapped for his faith whilst travelling on a bus. He remains missing and life continues to be very difficult for his wife Jina and son Apo. Alongside the awful uncertainty of whether Rober is still alive are the challenges of living in a country beset by ongoing conflict and, more recently, Covid-19.
Jina and Apo
With schools and churches closed, restrictions on outside activities and interaction with others, keeping children entertained has been one of many challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. For countless children, boredom has been quick to settle in.
The same goes for Apo, an eight-year-old boy who, along with his mother Jina (33), you might remember from our magazine last Christmas. Given the pain Apo has already experienced in his life, the restrictions brought about by Covid-19 have hit particularly hard.
In 2013, Apo’s father, Rober, was on a bus when he and another Christian man called Elie were kidnapped by extremists because of their faith. Elie was released a few months later after a large ransom fee was paid by his parents. However Rober, seven years on, remains missing.
“The situation hasn’t changed,” Jina reports. “We still don’t know where he is. I was contacting the president of national settlement and he said to me ‘I will call you if we hear anything.’ He has not called me.”
In the three years after his father’s kidnapping, Apo (the common short form of Abraham for Armenian speakers) was unable to speak, and even when he could, anxiety remained. However, he cherished going to children’s church on Fridays where he got ‘to know about Jesus’.
Sadly, the onset of Covid-19 has brought an end to all church activities (including the discipleship classes Jina attended), and left the pastor stuck in Germany. Jina and Apo have been confined to their apartment, and it’s affecting Apo.
“Unfortunately, Abraham is in a very difficult situation,” Jina says. “Stuck at home, he misses the activities in the church. He gets bored at home all day. He used to go to school and had good results, and he loves going to church to meet his friends and teachers there.”
"It makes me sad that I can’t buy a new toy for my son..." Jina
Like all children, Apo quickly discovers toys have a shelf life – but for him and his mother this only prompts more sadness. “Often, he gets bored with his old toys and asks me to buy him new ones,” Jina explains. “I always tell him that I can’t, but it makes me sad that I can’t buy a new toy for my son because they’re very expensive.”
More positively, the boredom has meant Jina and Apo have been able to use the spare time to pray and read the Bible together. “Every day we gather and pray, to keep our faith strong and we feel better and safer every time we pray,” Jina says.
Toys and boredom are not the only pressing issues caused by the pandemic for Jina. “I’m living with the help of God,” she adds. “I’m not working – no one is working nowadays. We are so affected by coronavirus. Everything is more expensive. Markets have taken advantage of the situation and raised the cost of basic needs. I get food packages from the Good Shepherd Centre [Centre of Hope] and that’s what’s keeping us alive.”
She continues, “No one is helping us but the church. Even my mother is barely living on the retirement salary of my deceased father. My father-in-law works repairing shoes – one day he has work and 10 other days he sits without any work to do. My brother-in-law has two jobs and can barely afford to feed his family.”
In the Middle East, single women living alone or with children are especially vulnerable. They are often looked down upon and are at risk of harassment, or worse. This, together with their faith, means Christian women like Jina are doubly exposed to persecution.
A Centre of Hope is a place where Open Doors partners can serve Syrians at their point of need – be it medical and trauma care, food, fuel, microloans or Bible study. At least 23 centres have already been set up in Syria, including the Good Shepherd Centre where Jina has received help.
And all this is on top of the terrible uncertainty of not knowing what’s happened to her husband – a man steadfast in his faith in Jesus. After his release, Elie told Jina that both men were beaten with chains and hoses, and he wondered if Rober would survive. He added, “They said to Rober to convert to Islam, time after time. But Rober refused and said, ‘I have my God and that’s it.’”
“My faith in God is very big. I say to Him: O Lord as you like, may Your will be done; O Lord, I just ask You to return my husband safe and sound.” Jina
Jina hasn’t given up hope of being reunited with her husband, saying last year, “My faith in God is very big. I say to Him: O Lord as you like, may Your will be done; O Lord, I just ask You to return my husband safe and sound.”
Jina has a message to Open Doors supporters: “First, I would like to thank you for asking about our situation. It means so much to me to know that someone cares about us and is still remembering us. Second, please pray that God will protect us and clear this pandemic from the world, will give us health and strength, and protect our children and all children of Syria who are helpless. I thank God for not forsaking His people. Thank you so much.”