Although the war in Syria changed his life completely and has separated him from his family, Seif* (18) feels he is closer to God than ever before. And what hasn’t changed is that he still loves his country; he cannot wait to return and start rebuilding.
“Living in Syria is like being in the middle of a dangerous forest,” says Seif. When he starts sharing about how his life feels, at first it seems like he is telling a children’s story; like many in the Middle East he is a compelling storyteller. But this particular tale turns sour quickly, “There is danger everywhere; predators might be crawling up on you from every side, but it is dark, you can’t see clearly, and it’s difficult to get out. No one there has your growth and development in mind.”
When he was a young teenager, his life looked totally different from now. “I had no worries and dreamt about going to university and about having a great future in Syria. I even liked the idea of going into the army and serving my mandatory time there because I’ve always loved my country. I still do.”
Seif grew up in a Christian family in Aleppo. “About five years ago the problems began when groups in Syria started to oppose the government openly and with force. The school I attended became a base for the Syrian Free Army. More and more roads were closed and I started to miss class often. That year I failed my exams. After that, the situation only got worse.”
With the impact of the civil war increasing and the educational system derailing, Seif decided to invest his time in the best place he could think of – his local church. In the morning he helped by packing food that was distributed to the needy in Aleppo; in the afternoon he organised children’s activities.
With Islamic State (IS) approaching, the government bombing increasing and the situation getting more tense every day, Seif noticed his spiritual life changing. Although he had always been active in church, He felt himself growing closer to God through the crisis. “Living with Him is a living reality now. If you don’t live from God’s strength, it’s impossible to be in Syria these days. Before the war, when explaining the gospel to others, I had to use other people’s experiences to illustrate how God worked. I read those testimonies in books. Now I can use my own experiences, about How God has guided and used me.”
With his 18th birthday approaching, Seif’s family urged him to leave the country. According to Syrian law he had to enlist in the army of President Assad at the age of 18. “If you become a soldier these days, you will most probably die. At first I wanted to do so anyway; I didn’t want to leave my country.”
When Seif travelled outside Syria briefly to follow a training, His parents begged him not to come back since they were worried they would surely lose him if he returned. Finally, he gave in and decided to stay abroad for the time. But he will definitely not migrate to Europe or North America. “As soon as I safely can, I’ll return to Syria, the country I love.”
In the meantime, his family remains in Aleppo, where IS, rebel groups, and government forces are still fighting right now. Despite his worries, Seif is able to laugh and even make jokes. He is full of ideas to share his life with God online in the I Share Life project. “My family and I, we all are living, walking, and sleeping in God’s hands. So we won’t fall,” he explains.
Never before was the need for God’s care so tangible. “Our house is right next to the part of the city occupied by IS. IS snipers target the street my family lives on. Every time they leave the house, there is the danger they might get shot. My mother prays and prays while all of them keep volunteering in the church. We are convinced that all of us are still alive because of my mother’s prayers. It is a miracle.”
A few years ago, Seif would have urged his family to leave the country in a situation like this. “I would have said God gave us brains as well, so think and run.”
But now, that also has changed. “Rationally, I still want my family to leave. But like my mum says: whether we live or die, we are in the hands of the Lord. God is using them there; I trust that whatever happens, it fits into His plan.”
* Name changed for security purposes
This is an interview with one of the participants of the new social media project ‘I Share Life’ that Open Doors is initiating in the Middle East.
The goal of this project is to enable Christian youth from Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to find new ways of sharing the love of Christ online in the Arab world. This is the first story, others will be available by clicking the ‘I Share Life’ tag throughout January 2015.