In late February 2015, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) moved into a historically Christian region in northeastern Syria, driving Christians out of a dozen villages.
Raman, an Assyrian Christian, and the rest of his village’s 130 households had known the attack was coming. For the first part of the war, the area was under Kurdish control. As the war progressed, ISIS moved in and established a camp just two miles from the village. Both sides sought the strategic location of the village, which was located at the top of a mountain.
For several weeks before, ISIS fighters had shopped in the village weekly for vegetables. The jihadists warned the villagers to leave as there would be a battle. The men sent their wives and children away for protection, and they prepared to defend the village.
The next day, they returned with two trucks full of men with weapons, and they threatened the priest: “If you refuse, we will cut your neck.”
“We obeyed,” Raman said. “We removed all the crosses from the cemetery, from the church and Christian images from homes. We didn’t want to give ISIS any reason to attack.”
The attack came two days later at 4 a.m., with blood curdling shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” [God is great!]. Though Raman and the others had stayed to fight, they were overwhelmed and frightened by the surprise attack. Raman could see fires burning and explosions everywhere, and he watched ISIS warriors set the church ablaze.
Raman fled carrying a wounded friend down the mountain. “I ran away so fast that my legs touched my back,” he said.
Raman later learned that the village was completely destroyed that night.
Millions Of Syrians Fleeing
After losing their home and all their belongings, Raman, his wife, Simta, and their three daughters became refugees in Lebanon, joining the nearly 2 million refugees already straining the resources of the country of 4 million. The huge influx of people needing food, shelter, jobs and medical care is affecting every part of life in Lebanon. Food prices and rent have increased, and security is tight. In October, Lebanon closed its borders to Syrian refugees, unable to care for those already there.
However, the newcomers have provided believers in Lebanon with countless opportunities to minister and witness to many Syrian Muslims also fleeing the violence. Churches have feeding programs and host schools for the children. Christian workers travel regularly to deliver aid and provide encouragement to refugees. Every VOM partner working in Lebanon is now involved in ministering to Syrian refugees. These workers are reporting a new openness to Christ among the refugees.
A VOM worker said the hardships have also inspired unity among Christians. “Lebanese churches who previously wouldn’t even consider reaching out to Syrians are now hosting them in their churches; some churches have more than doubled in number as Syrians have joined the congregations.”
Ron and Nadia, two evangelists who have worked with VOM for years, were formerly focused on reaching Syria from Lebanon. They found Syria is on their doorstep, as refugees fill their neighborhood.