Would you risk your life to go to church on Christmas Day?

For almost four years, Syria has been going through a destructive civil war, forcing more than 9.5 million people to leave their homes. Syria’s second largest city, Aleppo, is in the heart of the conflict area. It is also home to Pastor Samuel*, who has stayed to serve his church and support those who are internally displaced, shining the light of the Gospel in one of the darkest places. He tells us what daily life is like, now that it is winter in Aleppo.

“Everyone who asks about life in Aleppo gets the answer quickly: ‘Daily living conditions are very bad,’” explains Pastor Samuel.

For those living in this city in the north of Syria, even day-to-day life is difficult. With almost no electricity and water supply for days at a time, things is hard for those who are left. They are also in the heart of the conflict, trying to survive as the war rages on around them.

“In the midst of all this our main challenge was how to help the families,” Pastor Samuel says of their initial concerns. “Thank God that next to the church there is a well and we did our best to provide the neediest ones with water, after managing to find some fuel to pump water from the well.”

Pastor Samuel’s church is an Armenian church, which means they join with Armenians and other orthodox Christians around the world to celebrated Christmas on 6 January. This year, he says, “was, like the past three years, another year without the youth going out caroling. The people at home were not expecting them anymore to visit them… I didn’t expect many people to come to church on Christmas Day.”

Rain and snow were forecast for the week of Christmas, but although the church building had no electricity and no fuel for heating, more than 300 people still bravely gathered there to worship and celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Day.

“What a miracle of the Lord to see all those people and to hear the choir of 20 people singing hymns,” Pastor Samuel shares. “I was touched by the more than 35 children of the Sunday School who participated in the service by saying the text of Psalm 150.”.

The sound of rockets falling could be heard not far from the church. But even these could not take away from the joy of the congregation when, as the service continued, electricity came – for the first time in two years the church could be heated! What a Christmas blessing in the depths of a Syrian winter!

After the service, people gathered in the hall for fellowship. One of the elderly members of the church said, “Thank God for the Church Service. The church is the only place besides our house where we once a week can go. We take all kind of risks to come. Even as the weather is freezing cold now, we come to hear the Word of God and find the warmth of our faith. Thank God that we had electricity, today in the church and that we could get warm. It was a joy to come to church on Christmas Day, although the risks are always high,

it is better to die on the way to the church than to die at home.”

“Despite all the things we face, I thank the Prince of Peace for the faith of His people,” Pastor Samuel said as the Christmas season drew to a close for another year.

“I could say to these elderly people: ‘Life is not easy, but we are happy that we have The Prince of Peace and we have the hope that peaceful days will come.’”

In Syria:

  • Over 9.5 million people have been forced from their homes – 3 million have fled Syria and 6.5 million (50% children) are internally displaced – that’s more than the population of Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland combined. (BBC,ABS)
  • About 40% of the 1.8 million Christian population in Syria have left the country because of the conflict. (BBC)
  • 4.6 million people are living in areas under siege or that are hard to access. (BBC)
  • Open Doors estimates at least 25% of the Christian population has left since the beginning of the civil war in 2011.

Continue to pray for the people in Syria:

  • Pray for the church leaders who decide to stay in Syria and try to comfort their congregations.
  • Pray they continue to find the right words to speak, that the Lord will use them and give them wisdom to support the people in their churches.
  • Pray that the Lord will bring peace to Syria.

Open Doors works in cooperation with local church partnerships in Syria.
*Name changed for security reasons

Want to know more?
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868
http://www.worldwatchlist.org.au/#!syria/clw3

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This year we have even more encouraging and powerful stories from the persecuted church that we want to share with you.

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