Christians in Syria are enjoying seeing photographs of snow in high-altitude areas of the country after another year of struggle and war in their country.
“These pictures bless us as we know how hard the people of Syria have struggled to survive yet another year of war,” says George, who leads the Bible Society team in Aleppo.
“It’s been raining in Aleppo during the last few days and you probably know that rain is always appreciated in our country. We also look forward to seeing some snow fall here, while enjoying seeing pictures from the areas of Syria where there is already snow; and most of all we love seeing how families with children travel up from the capital Damascus to play in the snow.”
George was responding to a query from the Eternity team about how daily life goes on in Syria in light of US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to pull out US troops, saying that ISIS had been defeated.
“No picture from this country can truly tell you what people here have been going through and are still going through.” – George
“We believe that Jesus himself can understand our situation, as he was born into a country under occupation enduring incredible hardship,” George writes.
“Living here, we can easily picture how his parents travelled on rugged roads to make it to Bethlehem and how he was born at this time of the year, where the days are getting shorter and they won’t get longer until he is born bringing his light to us all.
“And every time we see a shepherd with his flock we remember those shepherds at the time of the birth of Jesus, who were so fortunate to have the Angel of the Lord announce the birth of Jesus to them and many, many Angels praising and worshipping and bringing the Best News ever to them.”
“It breaks our own hearts every time we meet with these wonderful people wanting to be trained in order to help.” – George
George says his team believe they have been given a very special commission to take the good news of Jesus to a people traumatised and attacked on many sides.
“No picture from this country can truly tell you what people here have been going through and are still going through,” he says.
“That’s why we continue serving the Church in Syria with trauma healing seminars. One of them is going on right now. It’s the seventh this year and the ones being trained to help others are often as traumatised as the people they are trying to help. It breaks our own hearts every time we meet with these wonderful people wanting to be trained in order to help. What a privilege for us to have a part in the healing of our country!”
George says the Christmas period and the upcoming season of Easter will mark some of the biggest distribution of Scriptures they have ever undertaken – “100,000 Scripture calendars will find their way to people’s hands and hearts this Christmas as well as thousands of Bibles, New Testaments and most importantly Children’s Bibles and Children’s Activity Books.”
He recounted the experience of a vision that a group of traumatised women shared on the final day of their trauma healing seminar when they went up on the roof of a convent in the Old City.
“Our dear sister told us: ‘We were all standing there in front of the cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and we cried out to him that we needed him and we pleaded with him that he would take all our sins, stress and traumas away. Our tears were streaming down our cheeks as we lifted our hearts and hands to him. Yes, at that moment we claimed the power of his resurrection to set us all free from the bondage, which we had thought had become a part of our lives. But at that moment the Lord Jesus himself stood there in front of us and we just knew that we had been set free! We were set free to worship him and serve him! Yes, Jesus is alive!”
“Both university staff and students had an incredible desire to live life normally in a country where everything is so disrupted and complicated.” – Rita
Rita, a trainee trauma counsellor who recently graduated from university in Damascus with a degree in English literature, says there were surprisingly few days when she had to stay home from classes in spite of the war.
“Both university staff and students had an incredible desire to live life normally in a country where everything is so disrupted and complicated.”
She says normal life stopped for her family three years ago, during her first year at university, when tragedy came to their door.
“Without our deep faith in Jesus we would never have recovered.” – Rita
“Despite intermittent shelling, I had been to university and had just returned, and all of my sisters, my only brother and parents were back at home, when a shell landed close to our house. Within seconds another one came and it went right through my brother, from his head to his toes. Shrapnel from this shell hit my father and he succumbed to his injuries within two months. What a disaster to us as a family! Without our deep faith in Jesus we would never have recovered.
“Have we cried? Yes, every day! And at church they have cried with us and their encouragement has given us hope. Now I’m crying again, but now I can clearly experience how Jesus is hugging me and both crying and laughing with me.”
Rita says her family’s experience is quite normal and many Syrian families are much worse off, having lost their homes as well and had to move to safer areas.
“I know people who have moved six or seven times during this war without end. Several of our neighbours have left and new families have moved in from areas that have been heavily bombarded with no way to repair their houses.”
“Being with other families also made me realise that others had suffered and that we were all in it together.” – Rita
With the death of the family’s breadwinner, though, they had to think of other ways to survive.
“How do you find a job in a country, where so much is at a stand-still? I was able to find some young students that I could tutor. Due to the situation I had to catch buses to the various students and it took a lot of time. We are so fortunate to be in a country where bus-tickets are extremely cheap! Being with other families also made me realise that others had suffered and that we were all in it together.”
Rita says that, like all other children, she and her siblings had had dreams of travelling, but even before the war they never travelled anywhere.
“Being born into a family with many children, we knew that our almost weekly picnics just outside Damascus became our grand vacations abroad, and we were pleased with this. I don’t remember that I ever felt that I needed anything more!” she says.
“Church played an important role in our lives from early age. Our parents had put all of us in a Christian school, where the education was good, but what we learnt about Jesus was even greater. This prepared us all for life and I’m thankful to my parents for their wise choice of sending us to a school that was so close that we could walk to and that gave us such a solid faith built on the Rock, Jesus.
“School set the foundation and our life was already centred around church. Are people in other countries and societies also living inside church like us? Besides Mass every day, there are so many other activities.
“Father Fadi, in the church next to our home, has been a priest in a very dangerous neighbourhood and it’s a miracle he is still alive. He knows the value of encouraging laymen to be part of everything in the church and encouraging children, teenagers, young adults, young married couples, older people, yes, and everybody to be part of the church and actively truly participate … Yes, Church dominates my life and this makes me feel fulfilled.”
Rita says she can tell from her mother’s reddened eyes that she often cries but she never gives up, despite all the difficulties of life, which include security checkpoints, scarcity of food in the market and rising prices making many things unaffordable.
“Her life had always been the family and nothing changed after that terrible tragedy. When people said: ‘Christ is risen!’ when they came to visit us after the deaths of our loved ones, she replied with the deepest conviction: ‘He is truly risen!’ Yes, it wasn’t only a customary phrase that we use on such occasions. No, she believed it from the depth of her heart and she’s lived it in front of us and, yes, I believe she is a true saint.
“She goes to work every morning doing the washing for a big institution close to our home. She works there until early afternoon when my siblings come back from school and she must have a cooked meal ready and then help them with their homework (homework is a big part of the education at all our schools) my mum never complains.”
“They, like me, need to put their troubles, worries, anger, bitterness, sins and lack of love at the Cross of Jesus to be set free.” – Rita
Rita says her mother has taught her family to live in the present and not to talk about what might happen in the future.
“We don’t talk about leaving Syria. We don’t talk about others. Deep down we are happy with a deep sorrow inside that we ask Jesus to share with us and he does!”
While Rita would love to continue her studies in English Literature, preferably in England, she says she is happy to stay on in Damascus and work among the Syrians who have come to the capital in search of a roof over their heads and some safety and a means to survive.
“We need to be satisfied with less and happy that we are still together.” – Rita
“Now I’m looking forward to using my new skills and my experience from my own trauma to help the ones I meet daily to overcome their own. They, like me, need to put their troubles, worries, anger, bitterness, sins and lack of love at the Cross of Jesus to be set free,” she says.
“We need to put love in our hearts when we see that our new neighbours are not like us, realising that we need the love of Jesus to live in a new neighbourhood created by a war we never wanted.
“We need to be satisfied with less and happy that we are still together and that Mum or I can work with institutions where our employers respect us and even love us as human beings. We are fortunate! It hurts us so much to see ladies in overalls carry heavy water-pipes and rocks to repair streets and pavements in our neighbourhood. There are very few men, especially young men, left in our country.
“But deep down I’m very happy. A few hours ago at the feet of Jesus hanging on the Cross my new-found friends and I cried out our shared pain and in the end we could both smile and laugh!”