Historically one of the safest, most hospitable places for Christians in the Middle East, Syria, is descending into “hell” as reported by pastors in the area and persons involved in the Middle East. By their testimony, Syria has been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, as the “Arab Spring” has morphed into a Sunni Ascendency in which (as they report) intolerant, totalitarian, fundamentalist Islam is rising to subjugate all moderate, secular and pluralist elements, all while terrorists seek to eliminate them.
George Shalhoub (63) is the founder and pastor of St Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia, a western suburb of Detroit, Michigan, USA. He grew up in the Christian quarter of Hama, Syria, and told the Detroit Free Press that it was “an idyllic life”‘. He notes that the Christians were safe whilst surrounded by Muslims. “We played in their mosques, and they played in the courtyard of our church. We were safe. We visited each other, and were part of each other’s lives. I never once felt discriminated against by the Muslims. It was the happiest time of my life.” Today, however, there is only sectarian strife and bloodshed. Rev Joseph Antypasc (65), pastor at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Troy (about 30km north of Detroit), adds that before the uprising, Syria was “extremely secular . . . You had equal opportunity, rights for women . . . separation of church and state.” Today, however, Islamic jihadists are destroying churches and driving Christians out through intimidation — including death threats — and forced Islamisation. Antypasc’s testimony confirms other reports that Islamists are setting up Emirs (Muslim rulers) and enacting Sharia law in areas they control. “Our country (the US) is fighting against Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in Syria, we’re supporting them,” Antipasc observes. “That’s bewildering to me.”
In December 2012 the West recognized the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) while proscribing Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Al-Nusrah Front as a terrorist organisation. The SNC denounced this, maintaining that Al-Nusrah is an ally; a label 29 Syrian opposition groups rose to support. Now Turkey (a US ally) is using Al-Nusrah as a proxy to fight the Kurds (another US ally). Recently Al-Nusrah banded with nine other jihadist groups in the Syrian province of Deir al Zour and formed a Mujahideen Shura Council, the aim of which is to integrate jihadist groups under a central command. On 21 January 2013 Stratfor Intelligence reported that eleven Syrian opposition groups had declared the formation of the “Unified Syrian Islamic Front”. Whilst the Al-Nusrah Front has refused to join, the groups will co-ordinate in the field. Furthermore, “The two sides will establish a joint Sharia court that is called ‘Sharia Society Court in the City of Aleppo”.
Fides reports that kidnappings for ransom and intimidation are becoming endemic, especially in the Kurdish and Assyrian/Syriac-dominated north-east, south of Kurdish-dominated eastern Turkey and west of Assyrian-homeland Nineveh Province, northern Iraq. Fides reported on 4 February that in recent weeks “there were fifty kidnappings, and almost half against Christians” in the city of Al-Hasakah, Syria (about 120km due west of Mosul, Iraq).
A Protestant pastor writes from Aleppo: “The people of Aleppo are living without fuel for heating homes, no gas for cooking, no water, no electricity, no medicines, no doctors, no bread, and the prices of the daily necessities are five times more.” He tells of people begging for heating fuel, crying for bread and medicines and trying in vain to sell their possessions in order to buy basic needs. He reports that extreme stress is (causing) new mothers ( to be) unable to produce milk for their babies, while families who have become homeless are literally starving and freezing. No longer moved by bombs and bullets, acquiring food is their only thought. Clearly, aid is desperately needed. “Our Shelter and Refuge is our LORD (Psalm 91),” he writes. “HE is keeping us . . . HE is our HOPE.” The pastor says that while most church activities are “‘frozen”, he “thanks God that every Sunday morning, 75-85 people are coming to church for Worship Service”. They are risking their lives to walk there, just so they can pray together “for the Prince of Peace to change people’s hearts and minds, [so that] human beings [will] live peacefully with God and with each other”.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT —
- the Holy Spirit will awaken Syrian believers and churches to the critical need for spiritual unity and Christian solidarity amidst suffering; may the fear that fuels self-interest and suspicion be decisively, supernaturally countered by an infusion of brotherly love and radical faith in our Sovereign Lord.
- God our Father will draw his people into prayer and then answer their prayers, energising their faith and providing their needs according to his promise: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [basic necessities] will be added to you’ (from Matthew 6:25-34). ‘Ask, and it will be given to you . . . [For] how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!’ (from Matthew 7:7-11 ESV).
- the Prince of Peace — the risen Lord Jesus Christ — will awaken people to the folly and hopelessness of their ways; may people’s hearts and minds be drawn to peace and reconciliation with God and with each other, so that peace and life might return to Syria, outwitting the darkness that seeks ‘only to steal and kill and destroy’ (John 10:10 ESV). — Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin