By Katelin van Zyl

On Friday, 15 March, the world observed the 13th anniversary of the uprising that led to the start of the Syrian war. Demonstrations took place in parts of the country, such as the rebel-held northwest. Popular protests in 2011 during the Arab Spring movement that spread across many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region were violently suppressed by the Syrian government, triggering the outbreak of a civil conflict. After drawing in different actors (including other countries) into multiple conflicts within Syria, the country remains fragmented, with some areas controlled by President Bashar Al Assad’s Damascus government, and others controlled by Kurdish forces and various opposition groups. Unfortunately, despite the war being largely ‘frozen’ since 2020, there have been reports of rising violence. The overall death toll to date is impossible to know, but it is estimated that more than 350,000 people have been killed since 2011, and thousands more injured. Over half the population has been displaced, either inside the country or beyond its borders.

INcontext contacted some Syrian friends for feedback on how the Syrian Church is doing and what the Lord has done during this time of war. One friend shared that their church opened its doors to those who fled to their area, caring for everyone regardless of their religion or where they came from. Where God provided, they were able to assist in supplying food, healthcare items, clothes, and heaters.

During this time of war, there have been many opportunities for the Gospel to be shared, and many have given their lives to Jesus Christ. Another friend shared that their church grew so much that they had to split the church into two services. Other friends shared that their church also grew as more people accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour during this time of war, including among the displaced. Christian areas received people fleeing areas generally closed to the Gospel, and some had the opportunity to be exposed to the Good News for the first time. Friends said that God used this time of war to send them to those who had lost hope in everything, so that they might accept the gift of salvation. A Syrian friend who came to know Christ during the war testified: “Because of the war, many people met Jesus and believed, and I am one of them. Thank God for everything that happened because God has a plan. And I became part of God’s plan.” God has since used him to share the Gospel with many others. He says, and others agree, that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few and support is lacking. Our friends ask the global Church to pray with them that those who have come to faith in Christ will remain steadfast in their faith and continue to trust Jesus. We can thank the Lord for the testimony received that: “God’s deeds with us cannot be described nor can they be enumerated because they are more than anyone thinks.” Another friend said many miracles have taken place, such as being protected from mortar shelling “as if the hand of God had created a veil covering [them] so that fragments would fly away, and [they] would remain safe.” Miracles such as these gave them the courage to remain in their beloved country and serve their beloved people, and they want it to encourage others that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Our friends shared that after 13 years, Syrians face an ‘economic war’. The economic embargo has escalated prices, bringing with it many challenges for families. Anything related to healthcare is so expensive that families prioritise food over healthcare, and many suffer from health issues. One friend asked for prayer for the healing of an operation wound that has not healed after many months. Food prices are such that many cannot afford protein, fruit, and vegetables in their diet. Numerous Syrians, including believers, also cannot buy diesel for heating and gas for cooking. In addition to the “miserable conditions” many Syrians endure, fear, anxiety and hopelessness are widespread. Many desire to emigrate, to secure work opportunities and livelihoods, which was cited as another current challenge facing the Church.

The severe earthquakes that impacted parts of northern Syria in 2023 have also contributed to the dire situation of many and displaced both residents and internally displaced persons in those areas. A friend of INcontext was able to bring aid into the affected areas and share God’s love, hope, and joy with those suffering from the disaster. Another friend who had travelled to the areas affected by the earthquakes said they were able to share the Gospel with more than 1000 families and the home groups planted are continuing to meet today. One friend opened a small centre to teach children in Aleppo and Shahba, which was well received. Unfortunately, due to a lack of support and assistance, the centre had to close, which was very painful for him. He said: “My heart hurt a lot and even their hearts were broken again because they were happy with the teaching.” He asks the Church to pray that they will return to learning and that they will be able to reopen the centre. Another friend also asked for prayer for a place where they can serve children, and for God to make a way where they face opposition to their activities. All our friends need financial provision to carry out their plans in serving the children, including orphans.

Many children have not been attending school, due largely to the need for them to work to provide extra income for the household. One friend lamented the effect that the lack of education has on their futures. He longs for them to be able to focus on their education, health, and other needs. Several friends spoke of the work they are doing among children and teenagers, with one sharing a testimony of a parent telling them of the transformation of their child – from an angry and violent boy to a child who plays, smiles, laughs and enjoys himself. One of the teenage girls shared: “You are more than family. We benefit a lot from the topics we cover in the spiritual youth meeting. I love hymns, and I feel that God comforts my heart and gives me calm.” These initiatives have also helped change the perspective that some Muslims have of Christians since parents see the “clear love” they have for their children. The global Church can partner with what God is doing, in bringing good out of the evil of war, by praying for Syria and the needs of the Church, so that they will continue to experience God’s “care, protection, and…transcendent mercy”. We can thank the Lord that, as one friend shared, “the Lord always moves in difficulties and crises.”

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For an end to the fighting, and for stability so that the Syrian diaspora may return, and the economy be revived
  • For Syrian believers to remain strong in their faith and to continue serving God and experiencing His faithfulness and protection
  • For provision, so that families can care for their physical and emotional needs
  • For Syrian children to receive a good education, opportunities to grow in their relationship with the Lord, and become a generation that serves God with all their hearts