What does persecution look like in Syria?
Despite Syria's conflict easing slightly in recent years, the challenges facing Christians continue to be numerous and severe.
In areas where Islamic militants are active, leaders of historical churches are particularly vulnerable to attack or kidnap, while most buildings belonging to such groups have been demolished or co-opted for Islamic use. For Christians living in these areas, there is little scope for expressing their faith, and many have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
In government-controlled areas, the authorities are tightening their grip on those whom they feel are a threat to social stability including converts from Islam to Christianity. The attitude of the Syrian government towards churches is determined by the Christian community to which they belong. Although all Christian communities come under pressure, historical churches are in a stronger position to defend their rights than those from non-traditional church groups such as Evangelicals, Baptists and Pentecostals.
Throughout Syria, pockets of conflict persist, and Christians continue to be caught in the crossfire. In some cases, they’re deliberately targeted, for example, in Afrin, where Turkish-backed troops are reported to be targeting Kurdish Christians.
Those who choose to leave Islam to follow Jesus can face intense pressure from their own families, particularly those living in Sunni regions.
Christians are particularly in danger in Idlib province in the northwest, which is still controlled by Islamic militants; and in Hasakah district in the northeast, where Turkish military and Turkey-supported opposition forces are active.
Converts to Christianity are at risk across the country, but their situation is especially dangerous in the northwest and northeast.
“Every week, a Christian person or family I know is leaving the country, especially the younger generation. For me, every Christian around me in Syria is a reason to stay in the country. But it is getting harder and harder when I see people of my inner circle leaving."
What has changed this year?
The level of opposition facing Christians in Syria has broadly remained the same. The key headline from the past year is the devastating earthquakes, which have added to the challenges faced by many Christians. Open Doors' long-term support for the church through a decade of war and persecution has meant that local churches, many of them Centers of Hope supported by Open Doors, were equipped to immediately serve their local communities and show the love of Jesus.
Open Doors works through local church partners and Centers of Hope to strengthen the church in Syria through literature distribution, discipleship and leadership training, trauma counseling, vocational training, relief aid and practical support for internally displaced people and earthquake victims.
- Pray that God will continue to help His people to be salt and light following last year's devastating earthquakes.
- Ask that believers from Muslim backgrounds will draw strength from the Holy Spirit as they face opposition for choosing to follow Jesus.
- Pray that the Holy Spirit will give relief and refreshment to Syrian Christians who have endured so much over the last decade.
Heavenly Father, Your people in Syria have suffered so much over the past decade. Refresh their spirits and pour new hope into their hearts. May they draw renewed strength and inspiration from Your Holy Spirit as they seek to be salt and light in their communities, particularly following the devastating earthquakes last year. We cry out for peace in their conflict-ridden nation. Show warring factions a better way of living, with the good of all people at its heart. May this year be one of welcome and lasting change in Syria. Amen.