From The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) newsletter, November 2013, page 3-5, by P. Todd Nettleton. See website at www.persecution.org
Most Americans have seen the graphic images of bombed-out Syrian cities and citizens killed by chemical weapons. But amid these stories of chaotic civil war and tragedy is another, less publicized story. Christian churches in Syria continue to spread hope in the face of hopelessness, holding high not a political or denominational banner but the banner of Jesus Christ– the only path to salvation and peace with God.
Before the outbreak of war, an evangelical church in one of Syria’s largest cities held several services a week for worship and prayer. Today, it holds twice as many services, and most are standing room only. A VOM contact who recently visited a Syrian church told us that his first thought upon entering was that he’d accidentally walked into a mosque. He saw so many headscarves and long beards that it appeared to be a crowd of Muslims!
VOM contacts are reporting many encouraging stories of Muslims coming to know Christ in a variety of ways. More than 70 Muslim families have turned to Christ in an area of Syria where only a dozen or so Christians existed 18 months ago. A former mullah who watched Muslim radicals from different Islamic sects kill each other while shouting “Allah is great!” began to wonder, “What kind of god are we worshiping?” Then he visited a church and learned about the God who doesn’t demand killing, but rather sacrificed his own son for our sake. His heart was moved to follow Jesus. A woman who had been paralyzed for 10 years from a stroke testified that she was healed after a Christian friend prayed for her in Jesus’ name. After experiencing his power, she gratefully committed her life to the Jesus who heals.
Syrian Christians often face persecution from their own families. A military officer who had converted to Christianity was forced into hiding when members of his family tried to have him killed for bringing shame on the family name. Despite the threats, he said he would never give up his faith. These are just a few examples of how the Holy Spirit is working among Syrians who are facing unthinkable hardships.
“When somebody comes to Christ, individually, it makes a big difference,” said one of VOM’s Syrian contacts. “When you hear about one Muslim coming to Christ, it’s a great thing, and everybody rejoices. Today in Syria I’m not talking about one person. We’re talking about hundreds, and even thousands of Muslims coming to know Christ.”
Still, our Christian brothers and sisters are no less affected by the horrors and hardships of war than other Syrians. A Syrian pastor told VOM workers that he has electricity only three hours per day and that many other parts of the country are worse. Recently, a group of Christians driving along a 37-mile stretch of road encountered 23 checkpoints, manned by armed fighters from different sides of the conflict and even different factions within each side. Each nerve-wracking checkpoint provides the potential for trouble and death, and the paperwork or dropped name that got you through the last checkpoint might raise eyebrows or gun barrels at the next.
The civil war in Syria is serving to strengthen the Church and tear down denominational barriers. Christian groups that five years ago might have questioned each other’s salvation are now gathering for weekly prayer, asking God to move in their nation and in their churches. Through prayer and fellowship, they are becoming true representatives of Christ’s Body in Syria.
VOM equips, helps and encourages these Christians who continue to minister and reach out even as their country is ripped apart by bombs and hatred. While VOM provides humanitarian assistance to Christians affected by this crisis, our principal focus will always be to empower and equip the Church to represent Christ even amid suffering. With the help of our church partners in Syria, VOM distributes New Testaments, Bibles and study Bibles this year. We are also working to provide material assistance to those who have lost much in the war.
VOM continues to support and equip evangelists who are sharing the gospel in Syria as well as those reaching out to Syrian refugees outside the country. We are working with Christians in neighboring countries to provide material assistance and gospel materials to Syrian refugees in those countries. “They are seeking hope, and they have nothing,” a VOM contact said. “They lost their house. They lost family members. They lost some of their children. And they are holding onto the hope that we have through Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:29-30 — For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
I Peter 4:12-13 — Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
I Peter 4:16 — …If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
VOM prayer request: Please pray with us for our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria. Pray for an end to the violence and bloodshed and for God’s protection and encouragement of Christians and churches. Pray that many more Muslims will see the true face of Islam and seek the loving face of Christ.
“You are not far away, my friends. You are not. If you are a Christian, you will suffer. That is the Gospel. So pray for your persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, for the suffering around the world; because one day you will need them, you will need their voice. I know they will be there praying for you when the time comes.” –VOM contact suffering persecution