Christian Today staff writer
Open Doors has appealed for help for Syrian families who are traumatised, lacking basic food and medicines and struggling to cope with the effects of the war.
Around 12,000 families are being supported through church-run Centres of Hope funded by donations from Open Doors supporters around the world.
In Safita, western Syria, Baptist minister Pastor Musa* opened a Centre of Hope run from a rented building in order to meet the needs of the displaced people in his community.
ReutersDebris is thrown out from an apartment building in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria. Buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed in the war.
As well as distributing food aid his centre offers training to help people learn new professions so that they can earn a living. It also holds classes and activities for young children who have not been able to attend school because of the crisis. The centre provides free consultations with doctors and holds lectures about general health issues like how to treat burns.
‘Our hope centre is the new way to communicate with the community,’ said Pastor Musa. ‘The people don’t need a church building, they need people who comfort them and bring peace. The children need people who pay attention to them. That is what we want to offer.’
The Centres for Hope also offer a vital helpline to children and one, in a former rebel stronghold in Damascus, is using football to combat the trauma and bring back some normality to children’s lives. Every Saturday, a football programme for 500 boys and girls gives them the opportunity to play sport outside.
Vera, who organises the football project, said: ‘The children forgot how to play in freedom and safety, so we thought that if we could get them to the courts, reintroduce them to sports, and try to make them feel safe in an open environment, their lives and their futures could change. We’re offering them a chance to get out in the open and learn to be less tense and anxious.’
‘I wasn’t able to play outside with my friends as much during the crisis,’ said Walid*, a 12-year-old boy. Sara*, 14, said that her parents ‘refused to even let us go out!’
It’s so important to be with the people in both good and bad times, said Pastor Musa. ‘They see me as a shepherd to them – they are like sheep. This is where we see a dream become reality. People come with broken hearts and they receive healing through our work.’
Eight Centres of Hope across Syria are supported by Open Doors. The Charity hopes to be able to help more people by opening 12 more centres but needs to raise further funds.
Syria is number 15 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Persecution against Christians in Syria mainly comes from Islamist extremists. Church leaders are a particular target, especially those from traditional denominations as they are often recognisable by their clothing. Despite this, many church leaders have chosen to stay in Syria to serve their communities – many of those who remain in Syria are the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and those in need of medical care.
*Names have been changed.