Recently, I was amiably approached by a leading businessman in Antigua & Barbuda who has deep and enduring Syrian roots; he had an overwhelming concern. I sensed agony in his soul as he earnestly asked for the prayers of my church family relative to the ongoing turmoil in Syria. His burden was real, personal and heavy. Unsolicited, he poured out his own convictions; I listened attentively. Needless to say, I assured him of the fervent and continued prayers of our church, the Christian Ministries Center, promising in addition to diligently follow the developments.
Now, as the awful war of opposing groups in Syria continues to escalate, I share the persuasion that Christians are increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks. I have been following several representatives of Christian groups in Syria who are aware, for example, that the anti-government rebels have been committing dreadful acts against Christians, including be-headings, rapes and murders of even pregnant women.
As it stands to date, the conflict has morphed into a full-fledged civil war in which well over 100,000 people have perished. The most capable units on the rebel side – those spearheading the fight against the secular government – are reported to be composed of Islamist militants, many of whom fought United States forces in Iraq. The militants now accuse Christians of being supporters of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Accounts like the following are quite poignant: “They have threatened to cut our throats,” said Bahri, a faithful Roman Catholic. “I love my country, but if it means having the terrorists slaughter me, my wife and our two boys, I’d rather escape to Lebanon.”
It is helpful to keep in mind here that these ancient Christian communities, some of the oldest in the world, have generally been protected by successive Syrian governments, including Assad’s. But that security was lost when rebel factions began mounting increasingly ferocious attacks on them throughout the country.
According to the reports of eyewitnesses and human rights activists, among other atrocities, on August 17, rebel gunmen shot dead 11 Christians and wounded three more in central Syria. In April, two bishops were abducted in rebel-held areas and an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, went missing while on a trip to the rebel-held northeastern city of Raqqa.
Now more than ever, I am persuaded that when it comes to the crisis in Syria, Christians should not sit idly by on the sidelines and watch others make moves we simply agree or disagree with. The Holy Scriptures indicate we can and should play an active role in times of trouble – our top priorities should be to learn all we can about what is happening and above all, to pray fervently for peace. The Christian Ministries Center, as a church, joins Christians of like minds in an effort to learn more about what is really happening and to call others to join us in prayer.
A call to learn
“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel”, we read in Proverbs 1:5. It is important that we learn all we can about what is happening in Syria and throughout the Middle East through the lens of geopolitics and economics. But it is also vital that we learn to see the region through what one may call the “third lens”, the lens of Holy Scripture. Only then can one truly begin to understand what the enemy is doing, what God is doing, and what we all should be doing as followers of Jesus Christ.
A call to pray
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” we read in Philippians 4:6-7. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How are you doing in terms of praying during this Syria crisis? We need to be praying daily – indeed, several times a day – knowing that our God is a prayer-hearing, and prayer-answering God, a wonder-working God.
We certainly need to look to Him and trust Him more, especially in such dark times. Specifically, we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Syria that God would give them great courage and boldness in the midst of war and persecution.
We need to pray that God would have mercy on all the people of Syria, comforting them in their sorrow, healing their physical and emotional wounds, and giving them wisdom to know where to go to be safe from harm and to receive the food, clothing, shelter, and medical care their need.
We need to pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ be communicated clearly, powerfully, compassionately and consistently to all the people of Syria, and praying that all Syrians would turn away from Islam to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who alone can and will forgive them, protect them, heal them, comfort them, encourage them, and provide for their every need.
Finally, we need to pray for our leaders to have wisdom to know the right course of action. Whether we agree with them or not – whether we like them or not – we are to pray for wisdom and discernment so our leaders can distinguish truth from error, fact from fiction. We are to pray for patience and for courage for our leaders, so they do not act rashly, but that they act with determination when the time is right. We are to pray that they govern well, protecting life and liberty, above all. We should also pray that they turn to the God of the Bible in prayer, as well, to receive “wisdom from above” and not earthly wisdom.