At the moment a civil war is waging in Syria. For 4 million people, fleeing was the only option. A further 7.6 million have been left stranded within their own country.
Recently we interviewed a Syrian Christian Refugee who lived in Daraa, where the first protests started in 2011. Achmad*, who asked us not to use his real name or say where he is living now, told us these four things about the conflict…
In 2011, a period of change swept the Arab world. It was a movement led by thousands of people that brought hope and espoused ideas such as democracy. It was the Arab Spring.
“One day after the revolution in Egypt, Syrians in Daraa started to think, why not revolt against the government? Some youth wanted a strike, saying ‘we want the president out.’”
Like in Egypt, many in Syria just wanted to see change. While the country was relatively peaceful, or as peaceful as it can be when your neighbour is Iraq, people had decent lives. What they did not have was any political freedom.
“First this all went peaceful, they only shouted, screamed. Not that the government should go, but only for freedom… it was a simple start.”
And the church had a very similar approach to most others. “There was not one idea. Every Syrian had his views. We had people in church thinking that it was good to go to the streets. Others thought the opposite, they thought this would destroy the country…”
At first that was all it was, and no one knew that this would then result in the civil war that is now in its 5th year.
“After some days of only shouting on the street, I don’t know who started, but the shooting started.”
The Assad government, who was in control at the time, deployed the army to deal with the protestors in Daraa. The hope at the time was that the government could prevent any nationwide movement, like in Egypt, before it developed. The army responded to protesters with lethal force, which then prompted protestors to fight back. However the church responded differently.
“Christians in Syria were in doubt (about) what to do. After the bombings, the blood, the church took up a role in helping people, providing food to the displaced. I can assure that we did not know these first days that it would become bad like this.”
Many churches in Syria are caring for larger crowds than they have congregations because of the huge scale of this crisis.
“It became easy to kill someone. My father said, ‘this will never finish.’”
With the country in complete disarray and many groups taking advantage of a weakened government, lots of factions started fighting. This means that practically everyone knows someone who has been killed.
“I know many people. Every Christian knows them. Of all my friends that in the past said Merry Christmas to me, before the conflict some 40, 50… just 2 or 3 are left. We lived together, ate together, now they are dead just for being on the streets. One of the friends that died was like a brother to me.”
Of a population of nearly 23 million in Syria at the start of the war, 4 million have fled, 7.6 million are internally displaced and over 210,000 have been killed. This is over half of the population. Those not included in that number are living in cities that have been inundated with people who have fled. And many are young…
“Especially the 18 to 25 year old(s) face big difficulties. Our future has gone. There is no hope for a job, a career. We only want to live. Youth ask how they can live, how they can have a family, how go to work, how they can to live as normal people. The future is dark for us, we don’t know about tomorrow.”
“Why do you help me, I am a Muslim? I said: ‘Jesus loves you and I love you because He loves you.'”
“Before the war, people in the church of course believed in Christ. But it was hard for non-Christians to become a Christian. With the war it is easier to visit a church as non-Christian, to pray with a non-Christian. The war shakes the people, they start thinking about right and wrong, people think about God more and more.”
While Syria was considered ‘more free’ in terms of religious observance, than some other Middle Eastern countries, it was still difficult to be a Christan. For many churches, there were heavy restrictions on their services and what they could do. As well, people from a Muslim background who became Christians often experienced pressure from their families to give up their faith.
“It’s easy to invite persons to church (now). As the church distributes aid people ask: why do people help us? Why do you help me, I am a Muslim? I said: ‘Jesus loves you and I love you because He loves you. The war helped the Christians a lot.”
And with this in mind Achmad is keen to one day return home, “I personally don’t know how this ends. I wish this will be over, that the situation will become peaceful, I don’t know how. I believe God has a solution, I don’t know what, how, He has a new future for Syria. Living with each other, love each other. I wish I could go back and live there with my family and friends. I hope that we will have more freedom to know Jesus, to go to church. There is still hope!”
*Name changed for security purposes.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.