But at night, you can hear the shelling of the suburbs of the city. At several spots in the city, roads are blocked because of bombs that have exploded there during the last few months. The situation in Syria, even in the relatively peaceful city of Damascus, is far from normal.
A team of workers with Open Doors visited this country which, even according to Syrian President Assad, is at civil war. Fighting in the country has already been waging for 16 months with no sign of peace. The violence is paralyzing the economy. Many Syrians have lost jobs. As a result, many church members are unemployed.
That crisis brings Christians closer to God is the conviction of several Christian leaders in the country. They shared this when the Open Doors workers visited them.
“It was very encouraging to see how they stand strong, how they trust God that He will use the current crisis for the expansion of His Kingdom,” one of the workers said.
A pastor of a Protestant church said: “My wife and I feel that it is the right time for us to be here. We can support people and families, answer questions, and reach out. Also for the church it is a great opportunity to actively reach out and be present in the society. We see open hearts to receive the Gospel.”
There is a 24-7 prayer and fasting campaign taking place. “We think this is a special time also for the church, and we believe this will help in the salvation of people in our city and in our land,” the pastor adds.
When visiting another church, the pastor shared: “Before the situation went as extreme as it is now, we saw the churches breaking up, and we feared for that. Now in this situation, after the tragedies, we are getting together and praying more intimately. It is encouraging for us to see.”
The pastor gave an example of how some church members are reacting: “Yesterday, a member of the church went to the commercial bank. There was a long line [of people] waiting in front of the bank. He prayed in his heart how to reach them and then felt that he should just step out of the line and share. He went to the front, held the Gospel up high and said; ‘This is the Gospel, the Word of God, and it will bring you eternal life. Who wants to read it? If you want one I give it to you.’ He gave away all 20 of the Bibles he had with him.”
But in some churches, it is reported that Christians either have left the country or are thinking of leaving Syria. The co-worker states: “A bishop we met told that me he already brought valuable things from his church to a safe place. He said, “But I am to live here, not to leave. When the violence gets to our city, the members of my church might flee; I hope that I will get the courage to stay and leave as the last.'”
In the last 16 months, many Syrians have left their homes in the cities where the civil war is fought between the Free Syrian Army and the government troops. Most of the Christians seem want to stay in the country. From Homs, for example, they fled especially to the so-called “Christian Valley” in Syria, west of Homs and Hama. Several churches are helping the refugees in Damascus and the other places they fled to and others in Homs. Open Doors is supporting the relief operation, partnering with churches. Hundreds of refugee families are receiving food and hygiene parcels, medical assistance, and other help.
An Open Doors worker says; “Many families rent an apartment together with several other families to share the costs. We have visited an apartment where four families–16 persons in total–are living in two rooms. They really depend on the help they get from the churches.”
The situation in and around Homs continues to be very dangerous. Almost daily the city and its surroundings are shelled. But even there, the church still is present.
For example, the pastor of an evangelical church stayed in the city. “We heard of him and three priests that have stayed in the city of Homs,” one of the Open Doors workers said. “The pastor and his wife are doing a wonderful job there. He is a doctor and is going to the clinic. He does not work there every day, but is present for those who show up and need help. He visits a home for elderly people and does a lot of visits. Every Sunday, he opens the church for the few Christians in the neighborhood who are left. Also other people come to the church. His wife is very active, too. They risk their lives doing so.”
According to Open Doors sources, there are still Christian families living in Homs, but about 90% of the Christians have left. ODM