Syria has about 603,000 Christians, about 3.1% of a population of 19.4 million. The number of Christians in the country continues to decrease, as many have fled conflict and persecution.
Christians in Syria still grapple with daily persecution that may become violent, despite the public threat from so-called Islamic State having largely subsided. In areas where Islamic extremist groups are active, any public expression of faith is dangerous. Sharing the gospel is very risky, and church buildings have often been completely destroyed. The abduction of church leaders continues to have a considerably negative impact on Christian communities.
As the Christian population of Syria has diminished due to the civil war, more and more Syrian Christians come from a Muslim background. This makes them additional targets – including from their own family, who may attack or reject converts. A Christian woman who converts while married to a Muslim is likely to face divorce and losing custody of her children, since Sharia (Islamic law) dictates that rights are given to the Muslim parent.
Additionally, every Christian in Syria lives with the constant knowledge that Islamic extremists have not necessarily left Syria – they've just retreated into the shadows, and they may return to public life again in the future.
“It’s a prolonged crisis, without seeing an end. On the other hand we experienced divine light amid darkness.”Pastor EDWARD, WHO RUNS A cENTRE OF hOPE IN sYRIA
“The church was bleeding,” says Pastor Edward, looking back at the decade of persecution, war and pandemic that continues to have a severe impact. “We lost over 60% of our members; they left Syria. It was so hard. Many of them had positions of leadership in the church.”
All Syrians and Iraqis have experienced hardship in the past decade, but Christians have faced more than most. In many regions, they were targeted by Islamic militants – losing their jobs, their homes and even their lives. Many had to flee, displaced either within Syria or abroad. Those who stayed either had no choice, or decided – like Pastor Edward – to courageously remain with the church.
At the beginning of the Hope for the Middle East campaign, Pastor Edward said: “It’s very important and meaningful for us, as Middle Eastern people, to see the church stay – to do the work of Christ here, like a light in the darkness.” That’s exactly what he has done ever since. At Pastor Edward’s Centre of Hope in Damascus, a lot of community connection was fostered by distributing emergency food and medicine. “The church has distributed relief items to the neediest. We brought love and care to the people in need, in the name of Christ. We are the ambassadors of Christ in the country.”
Syria has risen three places on the World Watch List mainly because of an increase in violence. Last year, three Christians were killed because of their faith and at least five were kidnapped. Dozens of churches, monasteries, Christian cemeteries and other buildings vital to the Christian community were attacked, damaged or looted in the west and northeast of the country, mostly due to intense shelling by Turkish forces, or by criminals.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Syria. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost, particularly during the pandemic.
Open Doors partners strengthen the church in Syria through Bible distribution, discipleship and leadership training, trauma counselling, relief aid and practical support for internally displaced people, and Centres of Hope, which support Syrian Christians and their communities.
Father God, pour out Your compassion on people in Syria. Restore this land to a place of peace and stability. Draw near to Your children, who suffer threats, intimidation and persecution for their faith in You. Comfort them in their distress and heal the wounds that ongoing war has inflicted. Give hope to people who have lost so much and help them to find supportive communities. Intervene in the hearts of militant groups and bring an end to the violence. Amen.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.