Three years ago, the church in Syria was all but dead, never to come back. The vicious civil war and invasion by ISIS militants threatened the very existence of Christianity. But our partners on the ground in this country of 20 million people say the story has changed and continues to transform. God is resurrecting the church in Syria, responding to the prayers and cries of His people around the world—and demonstrating His compassion and power to revive and restore.
During the war, churches have grown, and many Muslims have met Christ here in this Middle Eastern country, once a major stronghold for Islamic State. To help Christians, especially new believers, deepen their faith, Open Doors regularly organizes retreats for Syrian churches. A recent retreat in the Lebanese mountains included a baptism opportunity in a swimming pool where some 16 men and women offered a powerful picture of the transformation and resolve it takes to follow Jesus in the 11th most dangerous country to be a Christian.
“Glory to Jesus!” She shouts, raising her arms high. Water drips from the sleeves of her white dress as she walks through the green water of the swimming pool.
Tens of people gather around the pool, clapping their hands and shouting for joy along with her. She is the first new believer baptized on a sunny Sunday morning in Lebanon; 15 others are in line behind her, waiting to be immersed.
REVIVAL BEGINNINGS IN SYRIA
Sixteen baptisms in one morning in the Middle East is a very special moment for this young Syrian church of members who come from the Middle Eastern Druze religion (a religious minority in the Middle East combining beliefs from Judaism, Christianity andIslam).
“Of course, God works everywhere and among all people, but I see the start of a revival amongst the Druze and the Kurds in Syria,” says David*, pastor of the church.
Revival in Syria is not unlike revival anywhere else in the world. It means new converts, new churches, new leadership and the baptizing of new believers.
“In my city, we now have four churches of mainly new believers,” Pastor David says. His congregation of 60 is the smallest church of the four. Also, elsewhere in Syria, former Druze and former Muslims are turning to Christ in significant numbers.
A COSTLY DECISION IN SYRIA
One after another, the men and women walk down the pool stairs to be baptized. The pastor shortly prays and then baptizes them, gently pushing them backward under the water. Each believer emerges to the sound of loud applause and a warm embrace as they step out of the pool.
With all 16 baptisms finished, the group erupts in worship:
“I have decided to follow Jesus/I have decided to follow Jesus/ I have decided to follow Jesus/ No turning back, no turning back.”
The song is familiar to Christians around the world. But in Syria, the words take on new meaning. In this Middle Eastern country, their decision to follow Jesus comes with great costs. If or when their conversion is discovered, these new believers could lose their family, friends, their job, even their life.
Following Jesus will turn their lives upside down.
“The world behind me, the cross before me/The world behind me, the cross before me/The world behind me, the cross before me/No turning back, no turning back.”
Believers in Syria know that becoming a Christian means leaving their old life, their old world, and their old religion behind them. And before them is a cross–a symbol of persecution.
FIRST STEP FOR NEW BELIEVERS IN SYRIA
Not unlike any newly baptized believer, baptism for these converts in Syria is just the start. They will need the support of the Body of Christ, both local and global. Pastor David believes the war has been a catalyst for transformation.
“Hundreds have been saved during the war; before, there were only some hidden and secret believers. God worked in His special way during this war.”
Through your prayers and support, Open Doors offers new believers like these discipleship and leadership training. We are also working with local churches in Syria to establish , equipping and empowering local churches to offer aid and services like trauma counselling to their communities.
Recently, Pastor David’s church opened a Center of Hope in their community.
*representative name used for security
Open Doors’ goal is to “strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Rev 3:2). This verse is especially applicable to the situation of the Syrian church.