|(Photos courtesy Flickr/FreedomHouse)|
Last week, MNN reported the hostile takeover of the Christian village of Dalga, Egypt. The village was overrun by hardline Islamists.
This week, it's the Christian village of Maaloula, about 55 km northeast of Damascus. The area has become the battleground of fighting between rebel groups and the government army since Wednesday, September 4. The village had been under the firm grip of the regime until a suicide bomber attacked one of the government checkpoints in the village last week.
Could such actions be coincidental in two different countries? Open Doors USA CEO Dr. David Curry says, "There seems to be a very systematic and intentional move into Christian areas: areas that are historically places of faith for Christian believers and where there are larger populations of Christians." The developments of the last 14 days makes one thing is clear: "In some of these countries, it's a very dangerous thing to call yourself a ‘follower of Jesus.' So, they tend to group themselves together in some of these historic areas."
In Syria, news reports say that 5 armed groups fought the government troops and occupied parts of the village. Government forces regained control on Thursday. But they lost it again on Saturday, when a second coordinated assault was initiated by the opposition.
Maaloula is a historic Christian village and known for several Christian residents still speaking Aramaic, the biblical language also spoken by Jesus. Before the war, it was a tourist attraction with its churches and convents, and also because of the narrow gorge, of which is believed that the mountain opened up miraculously to protect Thecla, a pupil of the Apostle Paul, from her persecutors.
In the attack of last week, opposition groups have given assurances that church buildings would not be damaged, but reports describe that at least three of the churches are seriously damaged during to the fighting.
Next to casualties among fighters in the combat, civilians have also been killed, including Christians. "What you see across Syria right now is a huge part of the Syrian population leaving their homes, becoming homeless; and certainly a very large portion of the Christian population in Syria is now refugees or homeless", explains Curry. Over the past week, practically all of the approximately 3,000 villagers have fled to safer regions in Syria, both Muslims as well as Christians.
In the propaganda aired by various stakeholders, it is difficult to distinguish what is truth, or really what an outcome would look like at the end of the war. Curry agrees. "One of the concerns that we have here at Open Doors is that there may not be a ‘best case scenario' for Christian believers between the two scenarios that people have laid out, because it's not clear that any of the political solutions have any concern over Christian believers in Syria."
On Monday September 9, the Syrian troops launched a new offensive against the rebel fighters who are still holding strategic positions in the hills overlooking the village. The attacks fuel the fear among Syrian Christians being driven out of their homes and the wider community of Christians in the country. Depending on who is left after the dust settles, the future could be bleak for believers coming back home. "There are some very radical forces in these countries that want to set up governmental theocracies or Muslim extremists who believe that they want to set up their version of Sharia law."
Please pray that those who have been traumatized will be touched by Jesus' healing power and will be cared for by other Syrian Christians in the country. There are reports of people coming to Christ, however, it's a dangerous time to do so. Gospel partners need wisdom and boldness. "It obviously has a ‘dampening effect' when people who are even identifying themselves as Christians are targeted for violence. We believe that the faith that people have in Jesus Christ to be salt and light in the community is critically important, so we need to support these folks."