Ten years ago, on Tuesday 15 March 2011, civil war broke out in Syria, wreaking havoc across the nation and increasing persecution against Christians.
The war was sparked by a simple act of resistant. On 6 March 2011, a group of teenagers were arrested after graffitiing a wall with anti-government slogans in the Syrian city of Daraa. Ten days later, protests against their detention broke out. Three people were killed. The protests continued and the violence escalated, prompting the government to put army personnel on the streets to restore order in the city. In a matter of weeks, the death toll had increased and violence had spread across the country.
Syria’s civil war had begun.
Imagine growing up through war. Not knowing safety and peace. Michel is now 10, he was born just days after the protests that started the war happened. He lived in a village called Jisr Al-Shughur, a peaceful town that became a battlefield. Michel’s mum, Rasha explains: “Sometimes the regime would take control, other times the rebels would take over.”
Michel remembers guns and fighting in his early memories, though didn’t fully understand: “I wasn’t scared,” says Michel. “I used to carry my toy machine gun to shoot the rebels and claim victory. I would run out of the house and see them in the streets with long beards. I wanted to attack them but my mum would stop me.”
After three years of instability, the bombings intensified and Islamic troops announced that all Christians should leave. As has been the case for many Christians in Syria over the past ten years, it’s not just war and conflict that has caused suffering – it’s also their status as a follower of Jesus. In 2014, the family were one of around 100 families forced from their homes.
Image: Michel, with his mum Rasha and sister Jessica
Rasha remembers: “They [extremists] were screaming at us. I carried my daughter and was forced into a different car than the rest of my family. Michel was with his grandmother in the other car. I always say that I felt that God was stretching his hands over us all the way until we reached the nearby village called Yakubiyah.”
Michel remembers the day well too. “As we drove away from the village, I was singing songs for Syria, chanting the national anthem,” he shares. “My family made me shut up so the extremists wouldn’t hear and kill me.”
After three weeks, the family travelled south to Latakia. They found an empty house to rent but had nothing to fill it. “A pastor from the Baptist church visited us upon arrival, and when he saw Michel and Jessica sleeping on the floor, he went out and brought us some mattresses and blankets. If he hadn’t, we would’ve died from the cold,” Rasha says.
They later found a furnished home to rent and received food from a church which Open Doors supports. They began attending the church. “The children attend Sunday School and Michel loves his new friends there,” Rasha continues. Michel adds, “One of my favourite verses is ‘He heals the brokenhearted’ (Psalm 147:3), which I learnt in the last camp with the church.”
Through an income-generating project run by the church, funded with your help, Michel’s dad set up a grocery shop to support his family. “The store was a huge step for us,” Rasha explains. “We stopped being dependent on the aid and became able to provide for the family. We are now able to pay the rent and support the children. Thank God for the church and the way they stood by us.”
In the ten years since war broke out, your support for the Syrian church has been monumental. In the last two years, over 1,700 income generating projects have enabled people like Elias to set up their own business. Meanwhile, thousands of people have been helped with hygiene kits and the restoration of homes, and over a million food parcels have been delivered to vulnerable families. And that’s not even the full story – you’ve helped in many other ways, too.
The conflict isn’t over, and your help – through the ongoing Hope for the Middle East campaign, now in its fifth year – is still making an enormous difference.
“With all we do, we give hope,” shares Mourad, a local Open Doors partner whose name we’ve changed. “When a hungry person gets a food package, it gives them hope. When someone can start a small business, that gives hope. When a single mother gets warm winter clothes for her children, it gives hope. And giving hope is contagious. When someone sees that a person is successful in starting a small business, it gives hope to other people, too. Someone who has hope, spreads hope.”
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.