Listen: Jude Simion brings a first-hand report after visiting suffering Christians in Damascus, the capital of Syria.
To Bible readers, the ‘road to Damascus’ is where Paul the Apostle was converted to Christian faith, after a dramatic spiritual encounter complete with flashes of light and an audible voice from heaven.
In the thick of the Syrian Civil War, the sounds and sights on the road to Damascus are just as dramatic today—but for all the wrong reasons.
On a recent trip into the Syrian capital city, Jude Simion, the Chief Operations Officer of Barnabas Fund Australia, saw devastation all around.
“Driving from Beirut in Lebanon, to Damascus, you see two things,” he told Hope 103.2. ”One is displacement of people: refugee camps, tents and people displaced everywhere.
“And the second thing you see is destruction.
“Syria was not a poor country, it was a well-to-do place where people lived a reasonable life. And what you see now is completely destroyed buildings and infrastructure. People are living in marginal areas, in marginal situations.”
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Suffering Among Syrian Christians
Mr Simion visited Damascus to meet with church leaders, hear how the Christian community is bearing up under persecution, and find out how Barnabas Fund can better meet the needs of suffering Christians.
Staying in a place Straight Street (the name of the Biblical street where God told Ananaias to go and heal the Apostle Paul’s blindness), Mr Simeon said it was sobering to realise that the persecution Christians suffered there in Bible times, was now happening all over again.
Currently there are more than 400,000 internally displaced Christians in Syria, who are unable to escape to safer places.
“I met with a number of Christians and church leaders,” Mr Simion said.
“One was a young widow with two young children, and she was pregnant when her husband was shot and killed. Now she is living in a border village between Syria and Lebanon, in a church premises.
“She saw her husband shot in front of their eyes, while carrying a two-year-old and pregnant.”
“She said that ‘if you gave me a million dollars to go back, I would not go back’. Having seen her husband shot in front of their eyes, while carrying a two-year-old and pregnant, was a very hard thing for her to cope with.”
“I also met a mother in one of our food distribution places.
“She held my hand and asked me, ‘Can you take my son away from here?’ I asked why and she said that every boy who turns 18 has to serve in the military…and most of them aren’t going back home, and are still fighting, four to five years later. Parents have anxiety, thinking ‘what will happen to my child?’
“I met another family with four children, where the Dad had a good business with a comfortable life, and they had to leave everything and flee to a place on the outskirts of Damascus. He now lives in a small, 12-by-12 shed. He can’t provide for his children or even find employment.
“Thinking about what they had and what they have now, depression is a major issue, people becoming addicted to alcohol and getting into various difficulties trying to cope with their situation.”
Supporting Christians with Food, Employment, Relocation
Barnabas Fund is working with churches, government and aid organisations, taking a wholistic approach to helping the Christian community.
They are providing food aid, water and sanitation, trauma counselling, early childhood education, and temporary accommodation. Many of these services are carried out through local churches. They’re also helping Christians who wish to return to their home villages, by supporting them in establishing small businesses.
Mr Simion said the ‘traditional Christians’, whose families have followed Christ for generations, are able to pray and continue practicing their faith. But it’s the converts from other religions – especially from Muslim backgrounds – whose lives are in serious danger. Other Christians even fear taking these converts into their own homes.
“We’ve been trying to get them out of the country. But it’s not an easy option. It’s been very slow.”
For these people, Barnabas Fund is working to relocate them to other parts of the world, like the Czech Republic, Poland and Australia. So far they’ve helped over 300 believers get to Australia, working with their families and paying their airfares.
“We’ve been working with a number of (former) Muslim converts,” Mr Simion said. “Their lives are in danger. And we’ve been trying to get them out of the country. But it’s not an easy option. It’s been very slow.”
Pray for Persecuted Christians
In November, during ‘Suffering Church Action Week’, Barnabas Fund wants people to pray for the persecuted and suffering believers in Syria, advocate for them, and give financial support.
Prayer points including the following:
- That displaced Christians will continue to be strong in their faith.
- That there will be believers with strength and courage to remain in Syria, so that the Christian community is not erased from that part of the world.
- That they will receive the aid and help they need to survive, support their families, and re-establish their lives.
- That they will find help not just for their practical needs but also their emotional wounds.
- That persecutors – terrorists and extremists themselves – will experience change in their heart.