Syria has been in the news a lot recently, and with good reason. The attacks in northern Syria, and the threat of further instability, have already had a devastating effect on Christians in the area. Open Doors partners have been on the ground in Syria for many years, and our emergency appeal is helping them give vital, urgent support to those affected.
But emergencies have long-term effects. Christians in Aleppo may not currently face immediate threat of fighting or terrorism by so-called Islamic State (IS), and we pray that the city is not vulnerable to new attacks, but there are people still suffering the consequences of the crisis. People like Jina. Her husband Rober was taken captive six years ago and is still missing.
Kidnapped for his faith
As Jina recalls, “Rober and I got engaged during the war in 2011. In that same year we got married. Abraham was born in 2012. In 2013 my husband got kidnapped.”
He was abducted by Islamic extremists while travelling by bus to Qamishli, carrying a large amount of money. But the reason that he was taken wasn’t the money - it was his Christian faith. From a bus carrying many Muslim passengers, only Rober and another Christian man were targeted.
“They knew the names of my husband and of Elie, the other Christian, and ordered them to come out of the bus. Both were taken.”
Elie was released when his family paid a large ransom, and he is now living safely abroad. He told them that Rober was still being held because he wouldn’t give up his faith. “They told Rober to convert to Islam,” says Jina. “Rober refused and said: ‘I have my God and that’s it.’”
“Your will be done”
It’s now been six years. Abraham can’t remember his father. But Jina hasn’t lost hope that Rober will come back - that’s what she prays every day. “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.’”
It would be hard enough to grieve for a husband who had been killed, but Jina has to cope with not knowing whether or not Rober is still alive. As we read in Psalm 34, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Jina knows that God is her refuge and her strength.
And He is using your support to provide Jina and Abraham, and others like them, with the vital aid they need to survive as the cost of living rapidly worsens. They are being supported by a church that operates as a Centre of Hope in Aleppo, run by Open Doors partner Pastor Abdalla.
Food and fuel
Abdalla and his church can’t guarantee Rober’s return but, thanks to your ongoing support and prayers, they can stand by Jina and Abraham while they wait. We know that Jesus promised to be with His people ‘always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). Abdalla and his church are proud to be Jesus’ hands and feet in Syria, praying with the persecuted and distributing essential aid to those who need it: the elderly whose children left Syria, the chronically ill, and families like Jina and Abraham’s who have temporarily or permanently lost their breadwinner. This support is even more important during the hardship of winter.
Jina can’t get a job because, as a single mother, she needs to be there to care for Abraham during the day. Through the Centre of Hope, she receives regular financial help and fuel for heating. “They help us with the costs,” she says, “and I also receive gallons of diesel.” If it weren’t for the church’s help, she adds, she and Apo would suffer a great deal. These gifts sustain them while they pray for Rober’s safe return.
Standing with the vulnerable
It’s obvious that Abraham is still affected by his father’s disappearance, even though he has no memories of Rober. Abraham wasn’t able to speak for three years after Rober was kidnapped. He clearly remains anxious. Each evening, says Jina, he tells her “Good night, I love you so much, but don’t leave me.”
Jina’s hope is that Abraham will grow in faith. “I want to raise him righteously, that he knows what is in the Bible, and I want to teach him to live as a Christian.”
Thanks to your prayers and giving, Abraham is learning about the Bible in classes run by Abdalla’s Centre of Hope. “He enjoys being there,” says Jina. “When I ask him why, he says: ‘to know about Jesus’.”
Hope for the Middle East
These classes can help raise the next generation of believers in Syria. The ultimate vision for the church, shared by Abdalla, Jina and all who worship at Abdalla’s church, is to be a witness for Jesus in Aleppo. The projects run with your support aren’t intended to end with the survival of a small, beleaguered Christian community. Rather, the hope and intention is that Centres of Hope will lead to resilient communities, resilient families and a resilient church. A church that is powerful and life-changing, flourishing across the Middle East and shining as the light of Christ in the darkness.
This won’t happen overnight. The church has been significantly hit by the conflict in the region and Christians have been targeted in many attacks. The ideology of IS persists and the attacks in northern Syria could lead to further extremism. Christians know that they are still at risk, and they need the long-term support of the worldwide church so that they, in turn, can stay in their communities and be the hope for the Middle East.
And that could start with a parcel of food or a gallon of diesel for a family like Jina and Abraham.
Every £24 could provide ongoing medical care for a believer in Syria
Every £35 could provide a supplementary food pack and fuel aid to help a vulnerable Syrian family like Jina and Abraham’s survive the harsh winter.
A gift of £65* could go towards providing training and a loan, to enable a woman to open a small business so she can support her family and community.
Please pray for strength and encouragement for Jina and Abraham, and for the safe return of Rober. Keep praying for our brothers and sisters across Syria, for protection and hope and the opportunity to share the light of Christ. Thank God for the 16 Centres of Hope delivering help to vulnerable people in Syria through the local church, and pray that the vision of opening another 20 can be achieved.
You can send a message of encouragement to a Christian in the Middle East – they’d love to hear from you.
Don’t forget to order copies of Signs of Hope: The Open Doors Carol Sheet.
*The total cost of this training and loan is £452 per person