Syria has been engulfed in civil war since March of 2011. The fighting began following protests to liberate the nation from the regime of Bashar Hafez al-Assad.
“Syria was a safe place for Christians until the imploding civil war,” notes Bishop Julian Dobbs, an official with the Christian aid agency Barnabas Fund in Washington D.C. “Many of the rebel forces who are trying to remove President Assad are afflicted with Islamic terrorist groups and are determined to dismantle the Christian presence in Syria.”
Children of Christian families are suffering terribly in the ongoing conflict. Hundreds of children have been orphaned and many have been left traumatized.
Christian ministries are providing aid to the many children who have lost one or both parents. Children are especially in need of education as Christian schools have been targeted by Islamists.
In 2013, the Christian ministry Open Doors provided support to an estimated 8,000 Syrian families. Open Doors works with local churches to distribute relief packages to people.
“Open Doors not only has been sending food and financial support to the people of Syria, but has also distributed more than 50,000 Bibles and Christian books,” Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for Open Doors told the IRD. “Recently a huge shipment of 15,000 Action Bibles – illustrated youth Bibles – arrived in Syria and found their way to Christians all over the country. In this war-torn country, there is a huge need for Christian literature,” he added.
Dykstra says many Muslims are questioning their religion because of the violence between the Sunni and Alawite Muslims. Dykstra also added “the Christian churches help Muslims, when the mosques do not.”
One Pastor in Syria who is working with Open Doors told the IRD “we recently began helping a community of seventeen Sunni families with at least one hundred children, all of whom are living in a group in an old government warehouse,” He says the families divided the warehouse into separate living space using bricks or cement blocks, and set up tents for each family.
Open Doors has been cooperating with local churches to provide food packages to families in need. These packages include such items as sugar, rice, cheese, spaghetti and powdered milk.
The Christian ministry has also worked with Syrian churches to help Christian families impacted by winter weather. Open Doors has provided weatherization packages, including warm clothes, blankets, heaters and electric stoves.
Dykstra spoke to the IRD about the relief efforts. He says partnering with local churches is essential to the operation. “Work is done by groups of motivated church members. The churches first visit and register the families. During these visits the members of the church pray with the family and try to encourage them and they try to get a picture of the needs of the family. After these visits the church decides if a family will get help and determines the type of help the family needs. Dykstra says food packages usually have to be collected at a central distribution address, such as the church or a warehouse.
The ministry has also been providing trauma training to Syrian churches. The training began to help Syrian churches help Iraqi refugees coming to Syria.
Dykstra tells the IRD those taking part in the training learn how to talk about grief, and learn how to listen, learn also to understand their own inabilities such as difficulty in sleeping or physical reactions.
One Christian worker in Syria says one woman now sleeps with a prayer book under her pillow, because this makes her feel more secure. This woman was able to learn how to deal with emotional stress through the counseling provided by the ministry.
Barnabas Fund has launched an Easter Appeal to help children in Syria. Barnabas Fund is bringing comfort to children of Christian families in Syria by providing for the basic needs of around 10,850 families. Barnabas Fund is providing such essentials such as trauma counseling, financial support for orphans, baby milk for infants and warm winter clothes for thousands of young people in Christian families.
Last year Barnabas Fund provided extra support to at least 278 orphans from Christian homes. According to Barnabas Fund officials 31 of the orphans are disabled and some have lost their fathers to kidnapping.
Barnabas Fund has provided over 1,400 winter coats for needy children of Christian families in Aleppo and milk for 200 children under the age of two in the Wadi al-Nasara (“Valley of the Christians”). Barnabas Fund has trained 30 church leaders, youth leaders and volunteer family counselors in trauma counseling, with the emphasis on children, adolescents and families, helping those who have been affected psychologically by the war.
Dobbs tells the IRD Christians across the US can donate through Barnabas Aid- their gifts will go direct “through our proven and long standing relationships sending funds from Christians through Christians to Christians.”