Syria is roughly 87% Muslim, 10% Christian and 3% Druze.
At least that was true until last year. The Wall Street Journal now puts the Christian population of Syria at closer to 5%.
Syrian Christians are being systematically targeted by the radical Islamist Sunni Free Syrian Army (FSA)–often forced out of their homes, sometimes kidnapped and killed. In March, for example, the FSA Faruq Brigade went door-to-door in Homs, the rebel capital, expelling Christians. Last year there were 80,000 Christians in Homs. Today there are fewer than 400.
In August, rebels in Qseir, a town of some 60,000, ordered the town’s 10,000 Christians to leave. Virtually all of them fled for their lives. (Here is an interview with one refugee family from Qseir.)
Not all the refugee Christians have left the country, by any means. Not yet anyway. But they know all too well what happened next door in Iraq. In the past nine years, according to the U.N. Human Rights Council, roughly half Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled the country, driven out by a steady stream of kidnappings and murders of Christians, as well as church bombings.
That’s the background to the letter received recently by Britain’s Evangelical Alliance. The writer–whom the Alliance describes as a leading Syrian pastor–talks both about the situation of Syrian Christians, and about his hopes and fears and trust in God:
With love from Syria…
My people are hurting...
It was much unexpected turmoil. Not even in our wildest dreams did we imagine the violence that is sweeping across the country now. For many years Syria enjoyed peace and stability in the heart of the unstable Middle East. We were a safe haven for our neighbours. We received displaced people and refugees from other countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, and even from Somalia and other far away areas. Yet now the violence pushed the host people out of their homes, fleeing for their lives. Many are displaced internally and many others are external refugees living in the most humiliating circumstances, deprived of even shelter, clean water, power, food, and medical care. Millions are not sleeping in their own beds, forced out of their homes to find themselves with their children homeless and living in public parks or in the wilderness. Others are not sure if they or their children and loved ones will see the light of a new day, tens of thousands of families lost loved ones: a child, a father, a mother, or a husband. Hundreds of the injured died for lack of medical care. Thousands of children go to bed terrified of the sound of shelling. Hundreds of thousands are in camps in neighbouring countries. My people are hurting. I can cry like Nehemiah because the walls of our cities are burnt and the people are in great trouble and disgrace; the only good news is that the church is moving whole-heartedly to help relieve some of the suffering, and the Lord is surely opening hearts to receive the gospel.
We thank God because the Church is united across the country in prayer…
Thank God we are the CHURCH of the living God. We are here in this country at such a time in history not just to mourn, though mourning is certainly proper. We are here for a divine reason; we trust and rely on our sovereign, loving Lord. We believe that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. In this country there are many who are much more effective than us militarily, politically, economically and socially, but none have the privilege of being effective in this spiritual battle like we are. We thank God because the Church is united across the country in prayer 24 hours a day, seven days a week; praying for the glory of God to dwell in the Church, for an end to the bloodshed, for peace in the country, for keeping the Church’s faithful witness, to reach out to the suffering, to share the divine cure of the gospel, to speak the word of the Lord in all boldness. Each lost soul is, to us, an eternal loss. We pray that the evil powers of darkness will be defeated in our land, the values of false religion will be exposed for what they are and despised and rejected, and for many souls to come to know the love and forgiveness of Christ and to enjoy his saving grace.
The Church is active in relief work…
While revenge, power and hatred are the worshipped gods and the highest values in a dirty sectarian political fight, by God’s grace we are sowing the seeds of love and forgiveness. The Church is active in relief work, trying to reach the suffering with the love of Christ. It is our battle to be a Church that upholds biblical values and keeps its spiritual focus where our communities are deeply divided along sectarian lines and severely polarised politically. Yet, counting on the Lord’s power by the Holy Spirit, we know that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
We decided to adopt the motto of a Lebanese pastor who lived through the heat of the civil war in his country: “Our loyalty is to Christ, our submission is to the laws of the land, and our love is to all.” While we can see and sense the evil powers spreading a dark cloud over the country, closing the door for the light of hope, we still trust our all-sovereign God “who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ”. We see darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon His church and His glory appears over it.
We deeply appreciate the prayers of God’s people everywhere; it is a rare time where the Church in Syria is feeling the true oneness of the body of Christ all over the globe. For this, we thank the Lord, for it is a great encouragement to us.
- For peace in Syria and an end to bloodshed. For God’s rich mercies on the suffering people.
- For safety and protection for the churches and wisdom and vision for church leaders.
- To empower the Church to reach out to the suffering, to share the divine cure of the gospel, and to speak the word of the Lord in all boldness.
- That the Lord would send wise, God-fearing counsellors to the decision-makers in all parties in the country.