Story Syria | 16 April 2024

Finding hope after an explosion in Syria


Show: true / Country: Syria / Syria
It’s been almost 10 years since the explosion.

Ani still can’t talk about that day without crying. She remembers exactly where she was—holding her baby daughter on her lap, sitting in a neighbor’s living room because she thought it would be safer than her own home. And suddenly, the bomb hit, and she was thrown from her seat, sailing across the room. 

She has a daily reminder of the bombing beyond the traumatic memory. Her daughter, Maria, still carries a chunk of the mortar shell, embedded in her head.

As she flew through the air, with her baby in her arms, Ani knew: Everything she and her husband, Sarkis, had planned and worked toward was gone. Her future was as broken as the blown-out building where she lived—and the building was just one of hundreds in Aleppo that were destroyed during the Syrian Civil War.

Without thinking about what she was doing, Ani picked up Maria, ran down the stairs, crying for someone to help her. 

In the decade since, what she’s found is a Savior ready to walk alongside her in the darkest moments—and a Church who will uphold her through prayer and support.

A destroyed dream

Ani is now in her late 30s. She grew up in a traditional Christian family and lost her mother at an early age. She dreamed of a future where she would be a wife and a mother—a figure she missed so much in her own life. “I dreamed of having a daughter who would call me ‘Mama’,” she says.

That future seemed to come true when she met Sarkis and married him in 2009. Everything seemed possible for Ani. “When I was newly married, my dream was to start a family, to have children,” she says now. “I wished to have two daughters. I wanted to raise them well, put them in the best schools, and so on. I wanted to be surrounded by my siblings and close friends. I even had a slight hope of opening my own business.”

And then the war began.

Like everyone in Aleppo, Ani and Sarkis were significantly impacted by the war, even in its earliest days. “I remember the first two years,” Ani says. “I was employed, but the shop where my husband worked was shut down because it was too close to the terrorists. I worked in a safe area, but my house was located in a troubled zone. At times I wouldn’t be able to go to work, because of a sniper. There was a certain length of land where I had to run. Because of the snipers, it was pretty difficult.”

Aleppo was on the frontline between the government forces and rebel forces who controlled several parts of Syria. For Christians like Ani and Sarkis, these rebel groups carried a greater danger than just the horrors of war—the main rebel group around Aleppo was Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, a group with previous ties to al-Qaeda and a radical interpretation of Islam that leaves little room for Christian Syrians. Groups like ISIS also had—and continue to have—a presence in this part of Syria. Believers living in the parts of Syria controlled by these radical groups faced significant threats because they follow Jesus.
In Aleppo, this was what the Christian community faced. During the height of the war, believers there faced a very real possibility that they could be stuck living in a place governed by people who wanted them gone—or dead.

Ani and Sarkis struggled to make ends meet. “My husband started working as a taxi driver to pick up people from the airport,” Ani says. “When [the airport was bombed], that stopped. I remember going through some really difficult days. I couldn’t always go to work and if I did, I had to remain there from the morning until the evening.”

Although the war was raging, both Ani and Sarkis longed to have a baby. “We never thought this war would last so long,” Ani explains. Finally, four years later in 2013, their daughter Maria was born. When she was born, Aleppo was in the global headlines almost every day. For long periods, the city was under siege, and no place in the city was really safe.

The day of the explosion was March 24, 2014. It was the day after Ani’s birthday, and she was expecting guests for a birthday celebration. They had electricity—a rarity in Aleppo at that point in the war—and Ani was feeding Maria. “Then a first mortar shell fell in front of our house,” Ani says. “My husband told me to go downstairs, as we were living on the fifth floor. I [took Maria and] went to a neighbor’s house on the second floor—usually with mortar shells, the second floor is safer than the fifth. 

“I had barely sat down. I was holding Maria on my lap, facing my neighbor’s daughter and her friend. It was a matter of seconds; I didn’t grasp what happened. I saw myself flying and I saw Maria crying, but I couldn’t hear a thing.” As she recalls these seconds after the explosion, she stops speaking, overwhelmed with emotion. Tears run down her cheeks. She takes some sips of water and continues.

The sound of the blast had deafened her. Ani and Maria flew across the room, blown back by the explosion of the mortar shell. “Maria and I fell, but she was still in my lap,” Ani says. As she looked at her baby daughter, she saw that her scalp was peeled back, and she had a huge wound on her head. Without knowing what she was doing, Ani ran down the stairs.

Lingering effects

“I have no recollection of what happened after that,” she remembers through tears. “Later, I heard that some men took her from me and sent her in the ambulance. I knew that something had happened to her. Afterwards, they took me in a car to the hospital.”

Maria underwent a long surgery. Before the surgery, Sarkis signed a document to give consent to the surgery—there was a 75% chance the baby girl wouldn’t survive. “During the surgery, they removed the bone and mortar fragments,” Ani says. “These had penetrated her head. But one shard of the mortar remained. According to the doctors, it was too risky to remove the final shell fragment from Maria’s head. And miraculously, though fragile, Maria survived.

Maria was first placed in the ICU and stayed in the hospital for nearly three weeks. “Before we left the hospital, we had a conversation with the doctor,” Ani says. “He said that they couldn’t be sure of the long-term effects of the shard in her brain.” Maria was only 7 months old and couldn’t yet walk or talk, so it was difficult to see what kind of effects there might be. The couple was relieved that Maria survived and were optimistic.
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As the years went by, Ani and Sarkis discovered that the piece of shrapnel in Maria’s head has indeed impacted her. The baby walked later, and she continues to need ongoing care and physical therapy. “She is still going through many things,” Ani explains. “For instance, she receives physiotherapy twice a week now. She sees doctors, a neurologist, a paediatrician and an orthopaedist every three months.” She also has to take certain medications and follow a specific diet.

The couple's lives changed forever on that day—even a decade later, they’re still dealing with the aftermath.

But the mortar shell also changed Ani’s life in another way. It made her, for the first time, much more serious about her faith in Jesus.

‘I’ve never felt this way before’

Though Ani grew up in a traditionally Christian family, before her daughter’s injury, Ani didn’t always make her walk with Christ a priority. “I would act primarily in a ritualistic manner,” she says. “I would attend [church] services on special occasions and holidays.”

After the mortar attack that left Maria injured, her approach to church changed. “A friend came to visit and she said: ‘When Maria gets better, we’ll take her to church,’” Ani remembers. “Two or three weeks later we took Maria to church. When we were inside, Maria started crying. I wasn’t able to soothe her so I went outside with her. When the service was done, a brother [from the congregation] came to me. He said: ‘You shouldn’t leave the church. On the contrary, Jesus said, 'Let the children come to Me.’ This verse became inscribed in my mind. In truth, I felt accepted and safe at that moment.”

The church is one of the Centers of Hope supported by Open Doors through our partner organization in Syria. Centers of Hope are churches around the country that have become symbols of rebirth as Syrian believers try to recover and rebuild after years of war and attacks from Islamic extremist groups.

After that day at the church, Ani started attending church every week with Maria.

Ani describes that period as one “between the old me and the new me.” She started seeing the intervention of the Lord in the life of Maria. “Whenever we had prayed in church, I would hear at the following doctor appointment that the bones started to heal without the need of a further surgery,” Ani says. That kind of thing happened more often.

After some time, Sarkis also started going to church with his wife and daughter. “Even my husband began to change,” Ani says. “I never would have thought that he would change.” She started discovering new things at church. “One of the ladies asked me if I would like to join the discipleship group they were creating,” she says. “I replied that I had no idea how to search the Bible or what was inside it. I had no idea how to pray. The woman suggested that I should try the study for a week or two.”

And so: she did. Studying God's Word has made a profound impact on her faith. “I found peace and safety when I attended the group meeting,” Ani says. “There, I felt isolated from the outside world; just myself and the Word of God.”

She pauses and smiles: “I’ve never felt this way before.”

Through the cracks in their life, the couple started to see the light of God shining. Through all the pain, all the suffering, God entered their lives, bringing peace and purpose. Because of the gifts and prayers of Open Doors supporters all over the world, this church in Syria can make this kind of impact on the lives of Syrians who have lost everything.


‘Your support was vital’

Along the way, Ani became pregnant again and gave birth to their second daughter, Eliza. The young family was able to sell most of their belongings and buy a new, unfinished home. Through the support of Open Doors partners, they’ve been able to renovate the home. “[Buying] that house was my dream, a small house with two bedrooms,” Ani says. “Thank God we could renovate it with your help. It would have cost us a lot.”

Ani continues to participate in the discipleship group for women in the Center of Hope, while her children also go to the activities there. Maria and Eliza received Christian children’s books and clothes for the winter last year. As part of Open Doors' income-generating initiatives, our local partners also gave Ani some sewing machines to help provide for her family through a small business she now runs. “Your support was vital,” Ani says. “You helped me through a lot and made my life easier.” 

After the war started, the Syrian economy worsened. Most Syrians are now living in poverty and struggling to buy basic essentials. Ani and Sarkis and their two daughters also struggled. The war, the economic situation,  and the earthquake of February 2023 have all had a huge effect on the Syrian people. Believers also faced the additional threat of groups like ISIS that wanted to destroy any Christians in the areas they control. Even though the overt violence has faded, the threat from these extremist groups lingers—just last year, an ISIS commander was killed less than 60 kilometers from Aleppo. That’s all on top of the general pressure Christians experience in Syria, where conversion from Islam to Christianity can lead to significant hardships. There are also families like Ani’s who are still living in the areas where the Islamic rebels are in control. Those families suffer from being deprived of their basic rights.

A Syrian woman prayingBecause of these factors, Christians have left Syria in droves in the last decade. According to Open Doors’ statistics, the number of Christians before the war started was about 1.7 million; right now that number is under 600,000.

Ani and Sarkis want to stay in Syria. “My circle shrunk, but when I started attending church, I saw my brethren in church,” Ani says. “They are always supporting me. I can’t imagine myself without the church or attending an empty church. The church supported me a lot, whether morally or financially; when I enter the church, I feel as if I’m entering my home. Whatever happens to me, whatever things I need to solve, I find the solutions there.

“What keeps us here in Syria is the contentment I’m living in. We are satisfied; we hope to be able to provide for our daughters without the need of help from others. I love my country, and through my [business], I’m going to be able to stay in the country and provide for my family.”

Ani’s hope is exactly what Open Doors feels called to do in Syria—to, in the words of Revelation 3:2 that inspired Open Doors founder Brother Andrew, “strengthen what remains.” Christians like Ani and Sarkis want to remain in Syria, keeping the witness of Jesus alive in Aleppo and throughout the country. Income-generating projects can help make that vision a reality.

“Life is laced with difficulties and challenge,” Ani says. “I am able to face those challenges with a sense of peace within me because I know that the Lord is with me. Regardless of the challenges I encounter. He is always by my side, He is my helper and support. Occasionally when I open the Bible, I am met with the right verse that truly uplifts me. I hope that nobody experiences what we've been through for the past 10 years, whether it's my daughters or anyone else.”

She shares her dreams for her daughters' future. “I call Maria ‘the miracle of Jesus,’” Ani says. “For that is what she truly is; she proved this. There were days where I would take her to the doctors and one of them would say: ‘There is no way this [medical image] belongs to this girl; this is not the same person I see.’ I hope that one day I will see her giving a testimony about her life and what happened to her, how Jesus worked in her life. I hope that both Eliza and Maria will be servants of the Lord.”

Thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, Ani, Sarkis, Maria and Eliza have found fellowship in their church. And through the gift of prayer, people around the world—people like you—have the opportunity to join that fellowship. “It would be great if people could pray for my family, for the persisting of love and affection among us, and for my family to remain holy,” Ani shares. “And I would like them to pray for a complete healing for Maria. When I look at the situation we’re suffering from in Syria, there are a lot of challenges and difficulties, such as the lack of electricity and cost of living. The situation is unstable. But with Jesus, we have inner peace and an enduring hope and the Word of God to encourage us always.”

Open Doors works through partners in Syria to provide support for Christians like Ani and Sarkis through initiatives like income- generating projects, home restoration, grocery assistance and spiritual discipleship. In the next year, we hope to provide more than 500 Christians with an income-generating project so that they, like Ani, can stay in Syria and live for Jesus. Your gift today can help make all of these things possible. Click here to to learn how you can get involved! 

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