From The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter, November 2013, page 2, written by James Dau, VOM executive director. See website at www.persecution.org
Christians in Syria today are caught in the crossfire between a ruthless authoritarian regime and jihadist warriors who have swarmed to the region to fight what they consider a holy war to reclaim land. And the jihadists believe every bit of land they control is sacred Islamic territory.
Many Christians have fled the violence, but many others have remained in Syria for a variety of reasons. Some have stayed in the country because they have nowhere else to go, while others have stayed behind to answer a higher calling– a godly calling to reach the lost in Syria, even at the risk of their lives. Just last week, our staff met with one couple who are working to answer God’s call in Syria. “Samer” and “Liena” are leaders in a boldly evangelical church that has continued to meet during the civil war; and the church is growing rapidly even as the violence escalates!
Staying in Syria was not an easy decision for Samer and Liena. A church offered to sponsor their relocation to Europe and to provide housing all living essentials and even private schooling for their two children. But after much prayer and fasting, they decided to continue their ministry at home.
“It was so hard living in a place where terrorists were coming from other countries,” Liena said. “These men were saying, ‘We will kill everyone who does not believe what we believe as Salafis and strict Muslims.’” The couple knows, as do all Christians in Syria, that if their country falls into the hands of the radicals, Christians will be given three choices: convert to Islam, leave the country, or die.
Samer and Liena threw themselves before God. They prayed, “God, as Christians, what do you want us to do?”
“We were crying and praying,” Liena said. “We fasted for many days. We put ourselves on the altar.” They prayed and fasted until they had made a decision. They would stay in Syria, no matter the cost.
One night as their neighborhood was heavily shelled by mortars, the family huddled together in the front room of their home. Liena pointed to the front door and said to her children, “Look at this door. One day, God may allow someone from those terrorist people to come in this door. They will have big beards and very threatening faces, maybe they will have swords. They will put their swords on our necks, and you may see some blood. They will hurt us. We will have pain but don’t worry about this pain. We will close our eyes, and we will open them again in heaven, and we will be with Jesus, singing with the angels. Just tell these people ‘I forgive you, and Jesus loves you.’”
God did not call the family home to him that night. Instead, they continue to be lights for Christ in Syria. While they still have the option of leaving the country at any time, they feel strongly that God has them there for a purpose. One of those purposes is bringing attention to how Christians are suffering because of the war.
This month’s newsletter focuses on the persecuted church in the historically rich nation of Syria, where brutal acts of war have drawn the attention of the world. The Voice of the Martyrs continues to stand with our brothers and sisters in Syria who boldly proclaim the love of Christ.
Matthew 5:10-12 — (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Acts 9:3-5 — As he (Saul/Paul) neared Damascus (Syria) on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
John 15:18-21 — (Jesus said), “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”
A Prayer for Persecuted Christians by Safiyah Fosua (Based on Luke 21:12, written in honor of the 2013 International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians.)
God, you know the plight of people far away, oppressed by governments and vigilantes in places where Christianity is an unpopular choice. God, you knew that the day would come here when truth-telling would be despised, and siding with the oppressed would be the road less traveled. Have mercy, O God, upon persecuted Christians there and here who are willing to suffer consequences for speaking your Name in word or in deed, in defiance or in advocacy. Grant courage and strength to all who would dare to live their convictions out loud. Amen.