Saturday, January 12, 2013

Syrian Takeover Could be 'Game-Changer' Says Christian Aid Mideast Director

By Bill Bray
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

Scene during fighting in Aleppo
ALEPPO, SYRIA (ANS) -- Now, ten weeks after the take-over of this ancient Syrian capital from the government, local indigenous leaders are telling Christian Aid Mission that the rebel army is clearly reorganizing the surrounding cities under Sharia law.

"Emirs" or "ruler princes" are being appointed over suburban and outlaying towns along the lines of similar Sharia Taliban-controlled areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan according to local mission sources on the ground here.

"This could a real game-changer," says the Middle East Area Director for the Charlottesville-based Christian Aid Mission, "there is a strong fear that changes being made now could stay in place for generations to come - and so we need to support indigenous evangelistic and refugee relief services while the door is still wide open."

Christian Aid is collecting and sending financial assistance to Christian communities here. Most of the aid is being used to buy bottles of cooking gas, pay electrical bills, buy bread and other food staples, medicine and clinic bills, and cash allowances to the most desperate. Contributions are being received by phone (434-977-5650) and online ( designated to Gift Code 400REF.

Inflation here is causing prices to soar, especially for heating fuel, critical now because of the winter cold. Christians rarely leave their homes or neighborhoods for fear of kidnapping, snipers and mortars. Most of the historic and industrial neighborhoods have been destroyed, which is where Christians had been employed before the civil war came here in October.

While most of the personal violence in the area has so far been directed against Alawite Muslims and government loyalists, there is a fear that Christians and other minorities might be next under the emerging system of Islamic Emirates. However, from the beginning there has been evidence of deliberate attacks on Christian institutions.

More churches and Christian institutions have been deliberately destroyed in the last two months than in the last 100 years as the various Christian communities here had worked out a respectful peace. Large minorities of Christian Arabs, Syriacs, Assyrians and Armenians live here.
"I'm most concerned for my son," said one of the indigenous Christian leaders, "like all the children here he is getting a big education in violence, learning about weapons and ways of killing - seeing and hearing about beheadings and slashings - I am very sad. Our teenagers are being tempted and urged to join the fight."

Electricity is only available one or two hours a day so refrigeration and regular communications and business activity is impossible.

From the early days of the revolution, many Christians here were deeply suspicious of the "Arab Spring" democracy movement. It is now evident that Syrian rebels are acting in line with what has happened in Egypt where the hardline Muslim Brotherhood has taken over and put an end to all hopes for freedom or justice.

Christian leaders in the community have made the distribution of aid and services such as counseling, evangelism and worship their primary activity during the fighting. Christmas and New Year's celebrations were conducted in churches and homes, but inflation made normal celebrations impossible.

Even simple things like a bag of bread, when it is available, now cost 12 times the price prior to the revolution.

"Anyway," says one of the most respected local missionaries here, "all this is a very good chance for the Gospel! What is a tragedy from one viewpoint is a blessing from the other - especially for the Sunni people who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In the refugee camps, many are hearing the Gospel for the first time."

Christian Aid Mission, headed by Cynthia H. Finley, the wife of founder Bob Finley, is assisting indigenous missions groups working among 3000 tribes, tongues and nations in 122 countries. It was founded in 1953 as a ministry to foreign visitors from closed lands such as China and India and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia,

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