The Modern Day Book Of Acts In Syria
Muslims are discovering Jesus and refugees are finding shelter. Pastor Boutros’ church serves in the Syrian city of Tartus. With the support of Open Doors, he and his church community support over 4,000 displaced families. Before the war started, Pastor Boutros had a church of 25 people, now they have grown to 200. About 90% of them are new believers. We interviewed Pastor Boutros to find out about his ministry.
God Is Building His Church
“Destruction and death are one part of the story in Syria. On the other hand I see the work of God. So I can deliver good news to you: People are coming to Christ, they are baptised. Muslims who never heard of Christ are now in the church.”
4.8 million people have fled Syria as refugees, and there are another 6.3 million people who are in still in Syria, but have no home. These are called Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Pastor Boutros’ church serve those who are unable to flee their country.
“It is as if we’re living in the times of the book of Acts. Before the war we were praying that God would do something great in our midst. But we didn’t expect war and so many displaced. We weren’t ready and we didn’t have the experience or the resources to help them.
“In the beginning we were asking ourselves what we were going to do. We remembered the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke. We couldn’t just pass by and do nothing, saying that we are a minority and we don’t want to get into trouble. We could decide to leave everything behind and emigrate like many others did. But what did the Church in Acts do when there was persecution? They came together and prayed and the Lord spoke—we did the same. God gave us this vision to help them like the Good Samaritan. He gave us the blessing of ministry in the midst of war.
“We formed a group of volunteers, we encouraged everybody, young and old, to come and join hands with us. First to go to visit these people in their area where they are living in pain, to offer them a listening ear. We heard their pain, frustration and problems. We did this without discrimination, it didn’t matter to us if they were Christians or Muslims or of any other religion. We decided to start small and then we grew.
“In March 2012 we had 60 families only. In March 2013 we had 600. Every month the number grew, now we support 4,000 families, some 20,000 persons. God opened a door for us when we met with Open Doors. Through your love and your contribution we are now able to serve this many families.”
Helping Without Discrimination
“They left their house, their normal life, and their comfort zone. Many had to leave in a hurry, so scared that they did not carry anything with them.
“These are people who lost everything, who have lost their job and their income in a place where the prices of everything have gone up ten times, so we periodically provide them with food items, medical supplies, and we help those who are in the hospitals. (Acts 2:44-45, 4:33-35)
“I give glory to God who gave us this privilege to help them. There is no better thing than changing people’s situations. To see people glorifying God in the midst of what men are doing to men.”
Not all people in Syria are willing to help the IDPs, especially IDPs of other religious backgrounds.
“One day we had to take someone to hospital. One of the nurses asked: ‘Why do you help these people? Because of them, our children are now dying in the war. You will get into trouble because you are helping them.’ Then the words of Nehemiah came to my mind: ‘Should a man like me run away?’ We should obey God more than men. (Acts 5:29) Now these people are influenced by our love and care for them, many doctors who refused to help these patients at first are now happy to help because they see our love to these patients and our perseverance.”
The Difference A Bible Makes
Recently, the pastor witnessed what a difference the Bible can make.
“During a visit we met a Muslim girl and her family. She refused to go to school because of being bullied there. She said: ‘I hate myself.’ We had an illustrated Bible with us and I gave it to her. The girl found comfort and peace in the Bible, and started to go to school again. Her mother said to me: ‘I want my children to have the same faith as you. We don’t care what you believe in, but we want the God who puts this peace and the willingness to help us in your heart to be our God as well.’
The Syrian crisis changed Pastor Boutros’ church.
“Everyone is working, it’s like a beehive. The church became the family of those who lost everything. We got another perspective—we discovered that all people are in need of God. We as a church are not isolating ourselves anymore. We are taking the lead, we take our place in society. The war widened our vision.”
Over 50% of the church has fled Syria since 2011.
“It hurts us when more and more Christians are leaving the country. Even many of the new leaders we have discipled leave. I wish I had a hundred hands instead of just two, a hundred legs to be able to serve more people. Together with the team that is helping me, we know there is joy in heaven when one person converts. So I thank Open Doors for their presence. Bring thanks to your donors from all families who benefited from this help. Carry that message to your churches.”
How Can We Help Refugees In The West?
“In general these people are in need of family or of a community to receive them, to accept them. This is very important in our Middle-Eastern culture, we live with the community. So they need a receiving community, people who care for them.
“Second, we have to be clear that most important is the need for Jesus Christ. When you see that they are interested, also involve them with the work you are doing. The Church here is presenting help with one hand and with the other hand they present Jesus. There is a race between the Church and Satan, either you present Christ or Satan will present something else to these people.”
The Rebel Fighter
Pastor Boutros tell us of a sister from the church that remained in the war-torn area.
“She was used to taking risks. She was taking food supplies and food items to people who were living in this area controlled by rebels. One time they tried to force themselves into her house. She stood behind the door and she was able to stop them because she was protecting a number of women in her house. They told her: ‘Aren’t you scared that we come and slaughter you?’ She answered: ‘No, I am not afraid because I have the mighty God with me and he is protecting me.’
“She told me: ‘I don’t remember what happened in that moment. Maybe they did not understand what I meant. Or maybe the angel of God was standing behind me and he did to them the same as with Lot in the Old Testament.’
“After a while these same people came to her house, not to threaten her but to invite her, saying that the head of their group wanted to listen to her, he wanted to hear her story. This man was responsible for the entire area there.
“When she went to visit him, he was surprised to see how a woman would be standing there not shaking. He said: ‘Usually when men come to me, they will be shaking. I want to know, who is behind you? Who is the source of your strength? Which country is helping you?’
“She replied: ‘Do you really want to hear who is behind me? Would you give to me the right to share everything?’ (Acts 26:1-27)
“While the men were pointing guns at her, she shared with them about Jesus Christ who was strengthening her and who is the Lord of peace and the Lord of courage. She spoke for 25 minutes. They did not interrupt her and were listening attentively. At the end, the leader was crying. After that meeting, he disappeared; we don’t know what happened to him. But we know that God took him out of this place.” (Acts 26:28-29)
Find out more about what it's like to be a Christian in Syria here.