Date: June 19, 2015
Syria (MNN/ODM) — The horrors being perpetrated on Christians by the Islamic State fighters prompts one question: What has to happen before the world takes action?
Christians in both Iraq and Syria may disappear soon as the terror group ISIS takes root in their so-called caliphate spanning sections of both countries. Emily Fuentes of Open Doors USA says, “As ISIS is coming in from all sides in Syria and Iraq, it’s going to be more and more difficult for Christians to stay. Our concern is that Christianity is going to be removed in these countries that really were the birthplace of Christianity.”
Underscoring her point, the city of Palmyra recently fell into the hands of IS, stalking ever closer to Aleppo and Damascus. Their advance is creating fear in the estimated one million Christians who still remain in Syria. Fuentes acknowledges that’s true, but adds, “Many Christians have fled just because there’s no option for them to stay. But there are Christians who have a heart to reach out to their neighbors as well as their persecutors.”
“Roger,” an Open Doors worker, explains, “The Christians in Syria also saw what happened to the Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya. They saw how they were slaughtered after being kidnapped by IS. And, of course, when a city such as Mosul falls in just a day at the hands of IS, it has an impact on the people in Syria, too.”
Explosions can be heard every day. Fuentes says, “A lot of this is happening in Damascus,” adding that the hope believers have is that “The Saul-to-Paul conversion was on the road to Damascus, where one of the greatest persecutors of the Christian faith has an encounter with Jesus.” It’s for that reason that there are some church leaders who choose to live in the shadow of ISIS. “People are seeing that Christians are remaining behind just to love on their neighbors and care for them. We’re seeing the Gospel spread really quickly in this country, in spite of all this horrific warfare.”
The pastors and church leaders know the importance of helping their neighbors, adds Fuentes. “We’re working with local Syrian pastors to provide Bibles, food, and clothing and other essential aid for people who’ve lost everything but are still in the country. Then we’re working in Iraq to provide refugee care.” That, plus they’re there to witness God’s hand moving. “We’re actually seeing Muslim extremists coming to Christ–people who have been persecuting and attacking Christian churches being exposed to the Gospel. God is touching even the most unexpected hearts.”
As a result, she says, “A few years ago, our need for Bibles in that country was minimal. Now, we can’t bring caseloads quick enough. They’re running out by the time they’re delivered, essentially.” Hope makes the rest bearable. Families who fled are hesitant to return home amid booby-trapping reports from the Assyrian International News Agency.
Fuentes says the crisis has worsened, if anything, rather than subsided. Syria is ranked #4 on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians. The feeling that it got better comes from it sliding off the international radar. Efforts to raise money for refugees are coming up short. She explains, “It’s just human nature to give into ‘compassion fatigue.’ Syria’s gone on five years now, and Iraq: it’s been over a year, and it doesn’t look like it gets better. There’s no foreseeable end in sight.” However, approximately 4 million Syrians have left the country. Inside Syria there are 6.5 million Internally Displaced Persons, says Fuentes. “It’s vital that we remember these are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”