Your home. Your family. Your work. Your church. These are likely to be the building blocks of everyday life for you. It’s the same for Christians in Syria – but all these vital parts of their lives have been disrupted, directly or indirectly, by war. To help put ourselves in the shoes of our Syrian brothers and sisters, here are seven things you should know about Syria.
1. The crisis is over but the risk is not
The war in Syria started eight years ago and the effects of it are long-reaching. While the crisis is over, and fighting has subsided in many parts of the country, there is still risk. Aleppo’s airport is still closed, and to get to Aleppo you have to take a detour of hundreds of miles to bypass rebel-held areas.
In some villages, there are only military personnel. Others have been completely flattened. And the extremist ideology of so-called Islamic State (IS) remains, even if IS have been largely defeated. There are still people keen to wipe out the church from its birthplace in the Middle East.
2. There’s more to Syria than Aleppo
Aleppo has been in the headlines for years, but it’s not the only part of Syria that’s still suffering. Fighting was at its worst in Aleppo, but the ramifications of war are widespread. To take one example: Mashta al-Helou is 125 miles (200 km) from Aleppo, but ‘we suffer because of the migration and because everything became so expensive’. Those are the words of Shadia, a pharmacist in Mashta al-Helou, who was able to open her pharmacy thanks to a Centre of Hope supported by your gifts. With your help, she is able to combat the difficult living conditions in her hometown and build a future for her family. The same story is unfolding across Syria.
3. Life for Christians differs in different cities
There is no single picture of what life is like for Christians in Syria. The nation is at number 11 on the World Watch List, which ranks the most difficult countries in the world to follow Christ, but the risk differs dramatically across the country.
Wadi al-Nasara translates as ‘valley of Christians’, and this part of western Syria is relatively safe for believers. But in areas still controlled by Islamic extremists, Christians are forced to pay protection money, must follow a strict dress code and dietary rules, and cannot express their faith publicly.
In other areas of Syria, the leaders of historical churches are targets for abduction – they are very recognisable because of their clothes. Christians are sometimes kidnapped for ransom. And across the country, believers from Muslim backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to persecution, including persecution from their own families. Leaving Islam is seen as a huge source of shame. Despite the challenges they face, Christians in Syria are shining as a light in the darkness.
4. Education is severely affected
Children who have survived the conflict are affected in many ways. A quarter of schools in Syria have been damaged or destroyed, and more than two million children are out of school. Even those that are back in school are not at the level they should be, because their education was so drastically interrupted by war.
“Several of our children missed four, even five years of school,” says Abeer Atmar Al-Dakn, a teacher in Aleppo supported by Open Doors. “Some children feel that they’re abnormal because they cannot read or write, like the rest of their peer group. It’s so important to show them that there are many more their age who missed a lot at school, and that their struggle is completely normal.”
5. Businesses have been destroyed
Conflict has had a long-term effect on livelihoods. Many Syrians lost their work during the war. Factories were destroyed, shops close to the frontlines were closed and often looted. Families struggle to pay all the bills and provide for the food the family members need.
Life for 59-year-old Hanna Antonioles Nader, a construction worker, came to a near standstill because of the war in Syria. “I lost everything,” he says. “I had a lot of big machines, they all were stolen or destroyed.”
Even businesses in parts of Syria that didn’t see much active fighting have suffered significantly. With scarce resources and customers, many Syrians lost their incomes. Other necessary rationing has obstructed potential businesses – for instance, Tomas* struggled to work as a taxi driver because the government implemented a limit of 200 litres’ worth of fuel per month.
6. The cost of living has sky-rocketed
Aleppo has been liberated, but many people can’t afford to live there because the rents are so high. Electricity fails for many hours of the day, and the generators can only replace a certain amount of that. Buying fuel for the room heaters is expensive. The cost of living has increased tenfold.
Buying the equipment needed to start small businesses is a bridge too far for many, who can only afford the absolute essentials. Centres of Hope are providing microloans to people like George, an electrician, who has been able to open a shop in Aleppo. The cost of living remains high, but your support offers a lifeline for Syrians to start rebuilding.
George in his electrician's shop
7. But people are returning
“When we left the city, we didn’t know if we would ever return. It’s very hard to leave your home, your friends, your bed, not knowing if you will ever see them again. It was agonising, painful and very difficult.” Those are the words of Samir, who had to leave Aleppo during the fighting. With your support, he has been able to move back.
Whether they left the country or were displaced within Syria, many hundreds are returning to rebuild their businesses and communities. Centres of Hope, run by people like Pastor Abdalla with Open Doors support, are enabling people to start their lives afresh once they’ve come home. Thanks to your prayers and support, 2,810 Syrian families have been helped during the crisis. Now is the time to restore hope for the long term.
*Name changed for security reasons
*The total cost of this training and loan is £452 per person