It is hard to believe that it is 10 years since a terrible civil war erupted in Syria. It has left over 380,000 people dead and a further 200,000 missed, presumed dead. Many have been injured, have lost their homes and millions forced to flee Syria for neighbouring countries such as Lebanon. But through the witness of Baptists in Syria, in Lebanon, and around the world God’s love and the light of Christ have penetrated the darkness of war and conflict. Below we hear voices describing the situation today, from Syria, from Lebanon and form our Baptist representative at the United Nations.
Voices from the Syrian Baptist Convention and Homs Baptist Church
We are the churches of the Syrian Baptist Convention, and we are partners with the European Baptist Federation and the Baptist World Alliance. In Syria we have 13 churches and about 8 or 9 ‘centres’ will soon become churches by the grace of Christ. Every church is an independent, and every centre has 40-80 members. These ‘centres’ opened in villages for about 5 years ago.
For example, in the Baptist Church in the city of Homs, there are more than 400 members attending meetings regularly.
The general situation in Syria is unstable, because of economic sanctions, political unrest and ongoing conflicts of power and government. The security situation is never stable and there is still regular murder and kidnapping. The economic situation is very bad, with the average salary of the Syrian employee being about 10 US dollars, which is no longer enough to buy basic foods such as bread and some vegetables.
The Church is trying in all ways to help needy families, by distributing food baskets. The Baptist Church in Homs helps about 1,200 poor families with food, medicine and other items, with the support of friends and Baptists in Lebanon and other places.
But the needs are very large, and we reach out to people to help them psychologically and spiritually. Despite this ugly war we have known hundreds of people coming to Jesus Christ, more than 250 people in the past ten years of the war. Our Church in Homs had 15 members at the beginning of the war, and now we have 400 members, 60 of whom serve the Lord in the service team in the church.
The challenges facing the Convention now is the lack of places for the believers to meet. The buildings in which we meet are not large enough and we need places for worship. There are 7 villages that need places to accommodate the members who attend the weekly meetings, and almost all of these are the displaced who fled the war in the cities and went to the villages in search of safety.
Our Baptist churches are bold and courageous in their witness to Christ in Syria during the war years. The doors of our churches are open to all, especially the poor, the sick and the injured. All who come to our churches were welcome, whether Christians or Muslims.
Pray for us, for safely and peace to return to Syria, that we might find buildings that can accommodate the believers, and that the economic situation might improve.
Thank you for your loving support and prayers for us. We long for you to be able to visit our church at Homs and other churches to see with your own eyes all that the Lord is doing through the Baptist churches of Syria.
Photos: Baptist churches in Syria
Voices from Lebanon
– the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), Baptists in Lebanon who, with the support of many others around the world have been ministering to Syrian refugees throughout the whole period of the conflict.
The Light shines in the darkness. It is hard to believe that the ongoing Syrian civil war started 10 years ago. This is an anniversary we all wish we did not have to commemorate. As the situation for families affected by the war keeps on getting darker, God’s light keeps on shining even brighter through the relief ministry of our partner churches. The darkness keeps on spreading. The Syrian civil war killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of families whether internally or to neighbouring countries. Most of them are still unable to go back to their homes and villages, and their situation is not getting any better.
In Lebanon today, approximately one in four people is a Syrian refugee. Although they have always lived in precarious conditions, the compounding crises Lebanon is going through are impacting them in the worst way. The collapse of the Lebanese economy and banking system, hyperinflation coupled with mass unemployment and the COVID-19 pandemic, have left the country on its knees. In just one year, the percentage of Syrian refugee households living in extreme poverty in Lebanon jumped from 55% to 90%! With more and more Lebanese families falling into poverty too, tensions are on the rise between the refugees and their host communities.
Rabih, a Syrian father of five, is very much aware of the problem: “This country can no longer handle us refugees and I feel that after 10 years, I have become an unwelcome guest. The economic crisis has worsened the refugee crisis, and the other way around. If I make any money at all, I feel that a Lebanese person is more deserving of the money I make.”
Our local church partners, compelled by compassion and deep conviction, have selflessly and tirelessly responded to the needs of vulnerable families affected by the war. At a time when the overwhelming needs around them could easily discourage them, their vision and faith keep them going, and the hope they have in God does not waiver no matter the circumstances.
David is in charge of the relief ministry of his church in Lebanon. He recently told us: “If God wasn’t with us, we would be utterly devastated. But we have a living hope in God and that is what encourages us and lifts our spirit. We continue our ministry because we know God is on our side and He is blessing our work. We believe He has a purpose in bringing all these people to our door.”
Despite the many challenges, we are convinced that no amount of darkness will ever be able to overcome God’s light. On the contrary, just as you can best see the stars when it is fully dark, we trust that God’s light can only shine brighter and brighter as the darkness continues to spread. Please pray for our church partners, that they would remain firmly grounded in God and filled with the hope, peace, and joy that can only be found in Him.
Please pray for the situation in both Syria and Lebanon to get better and for God to provide for the people’s every need as they suffer and hurt. “We have no idea what tomorrow holds and chances are it will keep on getting worse and worse, but we always hope and pray for the best. Historically, no war has continued forever. We are hopeful that our civil war will stop at some point, hopefully soon, so we can start actively building our country back. Until then and as long as we are able to hold on to what we have in God, we will be OK. We need to always keep on smiling. God is good.” - Father Nicolas, partner in south-west Syria.
Text, photos and video: MERATH Lebanon
Baptist Voices supporting Syria at the United Nations
Shane McNary, Chair of the EBF Freedom and Justice Commission based in Slovakia:
"As BWA representative to the UN in Geneva, I was glad to collaborate with representatives from World Vision International in drafting a statement on the situation in Syria as it relates to children. In our joint statement, submitted to the Human Rights Council's 46th Session, we recounted the devastating impact the war in Syria has had on children. I asked to include the statement from our Syrian sisters and brothers who shared, 'Children are the real victims of this war, which destroyed their childhood and their future.' Baptists, as a people of peace who are committed to upholding the dignity of all persons as bearers of the Image of God, should not become passive as we confront the horrors of war. We remain committed to advocating on behalf of and continuing to support our Syrian Baptist family and others impacted by this conflict."
Tony Peck, EBF General Secretary writes:
"The voices heard above speak for themselves. I would add to them the experience of my own Baptist Church in Bristol UK, that has been at the centre of a local community group set up to provide welcome, housing and ongoing support for two Syrian families with special needs who have been brought to the UK from the refugee camps. Their presence is enriching our life as a church.
Ten years of war have been devastating on the people of Syria and caused untold suffering and devastation. At the same time, there have been many examples of the light of Christ reaching the darkness caused by war and violence. The European Baptist Federation has been both privileged and humbled to stand with the people of Syria, and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Baptist communities there, in ongoing prayer and practical support. We will continue to do so."