Haven of hope in Syria

young boy in Bourj hammoud.

Nicole James

Four years into a relentless war, some Syrians say they’ve lost hope. In one city where OM partners used to work with a thriving church, now only 25 families remain in the area. According to Fadi*, who led discipleship programs and coordinated relief efforts inside Syria until he recently left with his family, everyone—especially Christians—wants to leave: “They don’t want to stay. They lost hope.”

Limited water is one of the most serious problems for those surviving amidst the war.

“Water to wash, water to drink, it’s all the same,” Jamal*, a local partner who still lives in Syria, explained. “It needs money.”

Jamal said 1,000 litres of water costs approximately 7,000 Syrian lira, around 25 USD. Considering the estimated average monthly wage for those still in the country is around 75 USD per month, comparatively, the water trucks might as well be delivering gold.

At a recent training held within the OM Near East Field, Fadi and Jamal showed pictures of alternative water sources in Syria: brown sludge from a dried up river and water dripping out of a car’s rear exhaust pipe.

There’s also limited electricity. On-going conflict between the Syrian government and opposition groups have halted negotiations that could provide diesel to power the water pumps the public desperately needs. As long as the conflict continues, “the people suffer the most,” Fadi said.

Furthermore, medicine prices have increased 50 per cent.

The age to join the Syrian army has lowered from 19 to 15, Fadi and Jamal reported.

Not working is not an option

In most cases, Jamal said, every eligible member of the family works to earn money. However, beginning in 2012, he encountered a handful of young men who used to hang out on the streets, smoking cigarettes and starting fights.

“Do you work?” Jamal asked them.

“No. We don’t like work,” they answered.

“Come try,” he insisted, recruiting the young men off the street into a nearby warehouse to prepare relief packages sent to a local distribution centre serving around 5,000 families over a three-month period.

Once they began working at the warehouse, the young men not only changed their attitudes about work, but they also invited their friends, Jamal remembered.

“They love the atmosphere because it’s not just an atmosphere of work,” Fadi explained. Jamal strictly oversees the working hours, but after work “he gives them the same space to stay if they want to watch a movie or study.”

That sliver of space—a few feet between bags of relief supplies piled to the ceiling—has been a haven of hope for dozens of young men in the last three years.

“In total, there were 50. Now, there are only 10 to 15. Ten when we have work, five extra when we have pressure,” Jamal said.

Originally, when Jamal started offering jobs to Syrian youth, Fadi was also leading a discipleship group in the warehouse. Once, when he was discussing Satan, angels and demons, the youth started to listen.

“They were really excited because they had been doing some sort of Ouija board,” he remembered. Directing their spiritual interest away from the occult and towards Jesus, Fadi began doing a weekly Bible study with the group of boys.

Now, in Fadi’s absence, Jamal has found another man to continue studying with the young men.

“I’m like a street,” he explained. “If I see you have a problem, I take you to who can help.”

The weekly Bible studies, along with monthly activities, continue at the warehouse. Recently, Jamal also paid for several of the youth to attend a Christian conference.

“When we started [working with them], their minds were not with God,” he said. “But now, maybe this is the time for change.”

Of the 50 who have passed through the warehouse, Jamal said five are now walking with God. Forty-five are “in process”, Fadi added. But most are no longer in Syria. According to Jamal, all but 10 have left the country, and even they are searching for a way out.

Pray for Jamal’s work with the 10 young men remaining in Syria. Pray for the seeds of the Gospel to grow in the youth who have left the country. Pray that many Syrians would seek Jesus—the hope of the world—in the midst of a situation they have deemed hopeless.

Relief work of the OM Near East Field is guided by the following relief principles: local and relationally-based assistance, partnering with local believers, helping people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds without conditions, and a long-term view of the health and growth of the Church.

*Name changed

Nicole James is a freelance journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. A writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.

Credit: Nicole James · © 2015 OM International

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