Above: Open Doors CEO Mike Gore talks about the work of Christian Syrians in wartorn Aleppo. Image: Wartorn Aleppo, Syria.
Tragedy continues to unfold in Syria, as this week citizens and rebels began to evacuate the city of Aleppo, under the fire of the Assad regime.
Once a thriving city, it’s now a disaster zone with crumbled buildings at every turn, destroyed by daily bombing.
But a ray of hope shines where all seems lost, as the church continues to survive, with Christians showing practical love to their neighbours in the thousands.
One leader who feels called by God to stay in the besieged city is Pastor Alim (not his real name), a church minister who is supported by the church aid organisation Open Doors.
Christian Faith is Still Alive in Aleppo
In an Open Doors report, Pastor Alim said that only around 20,000 to 40,000 Christians remain in the city of Aleppo, but their faith is not dead. People in his congregation are banding together to support thousands of people, regardless of their faith.
“Our church is able to help a total of 2,000 families; I think half of them are Muslims,” Alim said.
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“We help some of them pay their rent and offer towards their medical needs. Our church has dug a well to provide clean drinking water. We started visiting families, we organize camps for children who are not Christians, and their mothers also come.”
Faith of Many Believers Growing Deeper
Despite the desperate situation in Aleppo, Alim sees a silver lining as people help one another and interfaith relationships improve.
“Because of the crisis, bridges are being built with people we never had contact with before,” he said. “There is now a greater appreciation for the role of the church. Before, people reacted differently towards the church. Before, as we were distributing food, we heard people saying: ‘Here come the infidels’: Now people are different.”
“We have passed through very difficult situations, we don’t know why we feel such a peace and hope.”
Pastor Alim said his church has grown in faith during the war.
“There is hunger to come closer to God,” he said. “There is a hunger for the prayer meetings. Now the whole congregation comes to these meetings. The church is full of people praying. We have passed through very difficult situations, we don’t know why we feel such a peace and hope. I think God is giving us double grace. That’s why I don’t feel ‘seduced’ to leave – although doors are open for me.”
Non-Christians are Experiencing God’s Love
He added that people of all faiths are sensing God speaking to them and giving them hope.
“It happens more with the Muslims and the Druze,” he said. “God is speaking the language of each group. Muslims meet Jesus in dreams. A woman saw a man in a dream, he was dressed in white and his face was shining. She woke up and went to church, she was very afraid of being rejected. She was accepted with love.”
Aleppo Citizens Living on a Knife Edge
While there is great hope spiritually, though, people are living in constant danger as the city of Aleppo is bombed day after day.
“The other day, as we finished our meeting on Friday, a bomb exploded next to the church, killing a young girl and her brother,” said Pastor Alim. “On Sunday, when we were getting ready for church, bombs exploded around our house.
“Every day we hear of someone who has died, every day we are surrounded by death.”
“We used to live very close to the frontline, the so-called ‘red line’. We moved further away to my parents’ house. Shortly after, a rocket hit very close to our apartment. One of our relatives died, shrapnel hit our house and broke through the walls.
“Every day we hear of someone who has died, every day we are surrounded by death. We feel the pain.”
Called by God to Stay in Aleppo
Pastor Alim said that despite the great danger, he and his wife both feel called by God to stay in Aleppo to continue bringing hope and support to their community.
“If all the Christians left Syria, the situation wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “Christians maintain a balance in society, it is essential for us to stay. For those who died we cannot do anything. We can make a difference for the living, we can help them.”
He said it wasn’t an easy decision to stay in the wartorn city.
“Two of my brothers are living in Germany,” he said. “They put a lot of pressure on us to come and join them.”
Sadly the couple are currently separated from their son who is living elsewhere in Syria, as he’s afraid of the bombs in Aleppo and suffers from nightmares.
Pray for Aleppo and Syria
When asked what he would like people to pray for, Alim said that their greatest prayer was for peace.
“People want to take a breath,” he said. “They want rest. Pray for an agreement to end the fighting so that we can live a normal life again.”
Mike Gore, the CEO of Open Doors Australia, said that both prayers and financial support are vital.
“We have people on the ground working with pastors like Alim, who are having a profound impact in that city.”
“The guy who founded Open Doors, Brother Andrew once said ‘if we truly knew the power of prayer we would be on our knees a hundred times a day, asking for things that would turn the world upside down’,” said Mike. “And we hear time and time again about the power and impact that prayers have.
“The knowledge that there are people all over the world praying, to people in Aleppo they find comfort and solace in that.”
He urged people to give towards the work of organisations like Open Doors.
“There is much to be done, so I’m trying to encourage people to give to us—because we have people on the ground working with pastors like Alim, who are having a profound impact in that city,” he said.