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Coronavirus: another crisis for Pastor George’s church in Syria

You might remember Pastor George in Qamishli, Syria. Open Doors shared his story last autumn, when Turkish armed forces entered the north east of Syria. Thousands of you prayed for and supported Pastor George and his congregation and the many persecuted Christians who had to flee their homes. Now, a new crisis has come to Qamishli.

“Normal life is almost non-existent”

The levels of difficulty differ across the country, but the worst hit area is the north east. The local economy hasn’t recovered from the events of autumn 2019, and lockdown restrictions have hit them hard. The authorities imposed a 16-hour curfew in the region: nobody is allowed out between 2pm and 6am.

“Covid-19 has a big impact on Qamishli; normal life is almost non-existent,” Pastor George explains. “The number of poor people has increased. Especially those people who are daily labourers who, if they don’t have work each day, receive no wages. The need to provide for their family, and especially their children, is bigger than ever. Due to the restrictions that prevent the virus spreading, the damage is huge on those families who were already needy in Qamishli.”

Pastor George

Pastor George distributes aid to members of his church

There is great fear about what will happen if the virus spreads in Syria, and particularly in the north east, because the health system was almost completely destroyed by the war. There simply isn’t the infrastructure or medical supplies to cope if a large number of Syrians need treatment. The lockdown is necessary to prevent it – but the effects of it are still really difficult.

Ministers are exempt from the lockdown restrictions in Syria, and so people like Pastor George are able to help with visiting people and distributing the vital aid they receive – and they can also give out food and food coupons from the Good Shepherd Centre, the Centre of Hope funded by Open Doors, for those able to make an essential trip.

“At first we stopped distributing relief packages. But when we saw the increased need, we restarted the distribution. We gave people food and washing detergent coupons,” says Pastor George. “Our church saw that now was a time to stand by the people, support them and show Jesus’ love in difficult times.”

“The needs are overwhelming”

Thanks to your prayers and giving, Open Doors partners have been distributing emergency food in the area for a long time. There had been plans to reduce emergency aid in 2020, turning attention to increasing the longer-term programmes to help Syrian Christians become self-sufficient. The economic crisis and the lockdown mean that’s no longer the best option. 

“The church in Syria, like this church in Qamishli, could not see their congregations suffer from lack of security, shortage of food and the new health threat and do nothing about it,” says Mourad*, who oversees Open Doors partnerships in Syria. “The needs are overwhelming now, and we need our brothers and sisters who can support us now more than any time before.”

“The biggest need I see around me right now is the need of food,” says Pastor George. “We opened the Good Shepherd Centre only for two hours, to distribute food coupons, and around 80 families came. 
“People are hungry. Some called me crying because they have no food for their children and families. Especially displaced families who have no relatives here – they can’t even ask to borrow money from anyone just to keep them alive until this crisis ends. I saw men, women and children crying of hunger; it’s tragic. We’re trying to help as much as we can with the means we have. We helped only 80 families, but the number of needy families is much higher.” Your support means the church in Syria can help more families – enabling the church to be the light of hope in the darkness of locked-down Qamishli.

Keeping believers together

Like everywhere else, including churches in the UK and Ireland, Syrian congregations are finding new ways to stay connected as a community, now that they aren’t able to meet in person for services. “We try to stay in touch, and we stay connected through WhatsApp,” says Pastor George. “I created a WhatsApp group including almost all members of the church. We have three meetings every week, every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6pm. 

“We have devotions and we praise and worship together. Everyone prays and shares their thoughts and feelings. At the same time, we share our prayer requests with each other and exchange the latest news. Many were encouraged that the church cares for them and keeps in touch with them.”

When asked what he and the church are praying for, Pastor George says: “We pray that the Lord would intervene to lift the epidemic away from our country Syria and off the world. We also pray for more help and support for needy people. We pray that this crisis would end as soon as possible to save many people from hunger.” 

Please pray alongside Pastor George and his congregation – and give, if you can, to help reach desperate believers in Syria and across the world.

Please pray

Lord, we join with Pastor George in praying that You would protect Syria from harm. We ask that You would enable vital aid to get to those in need, and that the Syrian church would be able to show Your love to all those in need. Give Open Doors partners protection and wisdom, we pray.