Despite death threats to him and his family, Pastor Abdullah has bravely chosen to stay in Syria and turn his church into a centre of hope for his community. Pastor Abdullah told Open Doors that his parishioners need relief aid, trauma care and assistance to rebuild their homes and their livelihoods.
“I remember the rumours about our church closing down at the start of the crisis,” said the 47-year-old father of two. He and his church have stayed to serve their community throughout the crisis, surviving the chaos and shining out as a beacon of hope and practical assistance for Christians in Aleppo.
He and his wife Aghna, along with their 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, had the choice to leave Syria at the start of the war, two years after joining the church in 2009. Together, they made it their mission to do the best they could for their 600-strong congregation. Open Doors CEO Henrietta Blyth said: “His courage and faith are incredible. I know of many other priests and pastors who have also had the opportunity to leave Syria but stayed to serve their parishioners, despite risking their lives and the lives of their nearest and dearest. We must help them to rebuild lives, livelihoods and their beloved country. They will need our help for many years, which is why we’re asking our supporters to set up regular monthly gifts to resource Pastor Abdullah and the other brave church leaders in Syria. It costs £27 per month to provide a family in Syria with the basic essentials they need to survive for that month, including food, clothing, shelter and education.”
Pastor Abdulla said: “There were tough times.” He still feels a heavy sadness over not knowing what happened to three kidnapped members of his church, who were taken by rebels because of their faith. At another point, heavy fighting surrounded the church, causing much panic. “Men are also forced to join the Syrian army, and many either escape to other countries or remain hidden at home with depression and a lack of purpose or drive,” he continued. “This leaves women to work in jobs they aren’t used to doing while bearing much of the brunt of raising children.”
Open Doors supporters have been helping Pastor Abdallah and other pastors in Syria – but more money is needed.
Pastor Abdallah’s main problem is securing long term funding, he explained: “Other NGOs are stopping aid throughout Syria and many are suffering.” He has heard that banks have stopped transfers and feels that the media doesn’t seem to shed much light on the difficult situation citizens must go through. “Time and time again, my church talks about how thankful they are for all the help,” he added.
The church helps parishioners in many and varied ways including providing food and medicines, and school and university tuition fees. There is a football programme to get isolated children moving out in the open again, and spiritual and psychological follow-up for trauma victims. Pastor Abdallah’s church also supports Kurdish converts from a Muslim background in one of Aleppo’s refugee camps.
Pastor Abdullah is excited by the help his church can give. He says the effect is palpable in his buzzing church, ‘especially with the new clinic we’re working on’. The clinic will serve a community that lacks quality medical care. Currently, he is recruiting well-qualified doctors, and Pastor Abdallah sees this as a long-term benefit for his community.
When asked which case in his church touched his heart the most, Pastor Abdallah said that he will never forget the case of a mother of three who struggled when her husband was recruited into the army despite him doing mandatory service in the past. She came up to him one day saying: “Don’t think that the little help you’re giving us does nothing. Please thank those who are helping out. It makes a difference.”
Pastor Abdallah is truly grateful for help sent from the UK and summed up: “What may appear to be small can have such a big impact on others.”
Syria is number 11 on the Open Doors World Watch List . As the conflict and chaos continues, Christians are targeted for their beliefs. Leaders of historical churches are targets for abduction – they are very recognisable because of their clothes. Christians are sometimes kidnapped for ransom. Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds face pressure from their families, as leaving Islam is seen as a huge source of shame.