Despite the persecution, violence and direct threats to their lives, church leaders in Syria have chosen to stay and serve their communities instead of fleeing for their own security. One such church leader is Syrian Pastor Abdalla who has stayed in Aleppo through the civil war. He remains a lifeline for his community.
At the height of the conflict millions of people fled Syria to seek safety in Jordan, Lebanon and the West. Those that left the country were predominately aged between 18 and 45. They were the breadwinners of the family, the affluent and able.
The sick, vulnerable, elderly and those with young children were unable to flee. They have stayed in Syria’s devastated villages amid the ongoing violence, lack of work and rising food prices. Many became dependent on food aid when their source of income was cut off by the war.
Pastor Abdalla said: “The families are perplexed and confused about their future. They are without jobs; their houses are destroyed or damaged. There are so many challenges in people’s real lives. We need to encourage the Christians to stay in this land. As a church we want to stand next to the people and help them. We want to see a better future for Aleppo and Syria.”
Pastor Abdalla’s church has become a Centre of Hope, one of 16 centres already established across Syria. Centres of Hope are not big buildings, but simple, low-cost places through which the local church can bring hope to their community.
Through Centres of Hope, Open Doors is providing vital aid for 12,000 vulnerable families. The Centres of Hope offer relief aid, medical care, trauma care, vocational training and loans, children’s activities, marriage courses and Alpha courses.
At the height of the crisis the Centres of Hope distributed predominately food aid and emergency relief. Now they are gradually scaling down emergency aid and instead providing micro loans to people who bring proposals for longer-term income generating-projects.
“Now, we have brought down the number of food packages,” Pastor Abdalla said. “We try to focus on the lonely and sick, elderly people, the larger families without a bread winner, widows with no family members around, and families whose members have chronic diseases. Besides that, we have also started to focus more on income-generating projects, and on offering activities in the Centres of Hope.”
Three times a week Pastor Abdalla’s church runs activities for the children: “We want to support and strengthen young children psychologically and spiritually and remove the side effects of war,” Pastor Abdalla said. “We also have all kinds of programmes for women, couples and men. We hope these programmes will bring about change. Every day of the week the church is busy,”
Syria is number 11 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, a ranking of 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
As the conflict in Syria continues, Islamic extremists still have control over areas of Syria. In these areas, Christians are forced to pay protection money, follow a strict dress code and cannot express their faith publicly.
In other areas of Syria, the leaders of historical churches are targets for abduction – their robes identify their faith and thus they are an easy target. Christians are sometimes kidnapped for ransom.
Believers from Muslim backgrounds face pressure from their families, as leaving Islam is seen as a huge source of shame.