Pastors and priests and their churches made a difference in the nine years of the Syrian war. They stood with the people when they suffered from bombings and shootings. Also, when people were economically hit, and couldn’t provide in their basic needs. They came alongside and helped when Christians faced persecution because of following Jesus. Pastor George Moushi from Qamishli in Syria is such a pastor. His church is one of the centres of hope in Syria.
The Turkish invasion of north east Syria was a new crisis in the Syrian war that already lasts for nine years. Civilians suffered the most. In their suffering stood a pastor, a long-standing partner of ours, who saw their need and acted. Thus, we swiftly responded to the urgent need of the displaced people. Listen to pastor George Moushi of the Alliance Church in Qamishli. More recently, with the Covid-19 crisis, the pastor immediately acted again.
What happened in the fall of 2019? On 9 October 2019 Turkish Armed Forces started an operation under the code name Operation Peace Spring as they said to create a ‘safe zone’ of about 30 km along the border on Syrian territory.
That mainly Kurdish area should, according to the Turkish authorities, serve to host (part of) the over three million Syrian refugees who found shelter in Turkey. Critics say this will lead to a demographic change. The first week there has been fierce fighting, later, due to an agreement, SDF (Kurdish) troops have retreated from the intended safe zone. The invasion caused a wave of displacement in the region, reason that Open Doors issued an emergency call to help the local churches to help the people who suffer. We expanded our work in the north east of Syria since then.
The pastor and his church in Qamishli played an amazing role in standing with the people in their greatest need, when the Turkish invasion started. The pastor, married and father of three sons, is a partner of our organisation since 2012. “As many people in the region became needy because of displacement and because of the terrible economic situation in the country, the church started in 2012 helping the neediest families. We helped with relief, with all kinds of humanitarian help, but also, we helped students. Some families were supported by the church with housing, a converted family with a Muslim background, was helped to flee to another city.”
Because of their love to Christ they helped everybody around them. When the non-Christians asked why they were doing this, they explained them the Gospel. As a result of being so loving and caring as a church, many were attracted to the Gospel and accepted Jesus as their Savior. “The best hope we can offer is the hope that Jesus Christ offers.” The result clearly can be seen during a church-meeting, where about 30 percent of the members are converted from a Muslim background. “All help was given unconditionally to the people. But we offered always the message of Jesus too, depending how open the door was. We didn’t only want to fill the stomach of the people.”
Abd al Ahad and others working in the bakery, knead the dough and bake the bread. Pastor George (right) showing how he would get bread here to share it with people.
“When the Turkish armed forces attacked [in October 2019] many bombs exploded on or between the houses in the inhabited areas. A lot of bombs fell on our city. Persons were killed, injured, houses and shops were destroyed. There was a lot of fear, a big fear that the Turkish army would enter our city,” the pastor describes the situation those days.
“People got killed, wounded. We visited affected families and encourage them, some of those we gave some cash support and gave them coupons for food. Some of the displaced families came from other places to Qamishli, they only had the clothes they were wearing when they fled their place. It was so cold in the camps where they first stayed. We helped them with warm clothes: jackets socks and some children we gave shoes, as they came without. How could we have shown them the love of God, while we would not meet their basic needs? In the letter of James, we learn that we should give people food to eat and clothe them.”
“When the Turkish armed forces with support of extremist groups entered Syria, there was a lot of fear, of course. Turkey almost entered our city, as they wanted what they call a safe zone of 30 km along their border. You must know that the north of our city is about 100 metres from Turkey, our city could be included in that zone easily. Yes, there was a lot of fear that they would come. At that time, many families were afraid to send their children to school. You must know that the Turkish army is a very aggressive army, there is no real rule in place. They could do horrific things, they could harm women, rob houses and cause a lot of damage.”
His opinion on the Turkish army and the groups fighting with them is based on what Syria saw happening in Afrin after the Turkish Armed forces took control in March 2018. “We had a history with them,” the pastor continues. “We have seen how extremists [the pastor believes that extremist organisations are supported by the Turks] came to the Christian Assyrian villages at the borders of the Khabour river in 2015. Knowing that, we were so afraid at the end of 2019 when their army came. A lot of the people from our city left for other places in Syria. When the Turkish bombs fell, we also struggled with the question should we stay or leave.”
The Syrian church has face war, persecution — now pandemic.
Will you stand with them today?
“I was afraid of course. But I had trust in Jesus, I prayed, and I expressed that to Jesus. I wasn’t that afraid of what could happen to me, more about how I would be able to help all those people. As soon as the bombs were falling, I started calling the people to check how they were doing. I went buying bread and other food items for the families and some extra medicine.” For some families he rented a place to live in.
“All churches in Qamishli started to pray to stop this war. The people continued to come to church, even though the bombs were falling, they even came with their children. We held a meeting with the members of our church, I wanted to take the decision to stay or to leave together with the congregation. We prayed and asked God for wisdom. At the same time, I tried to find already means of transport to be able to leave. It was so hard, what should I advise?” They prayed and after that he opened the floor for them to speak about what they wanted. “About sixty percent wanted to stay. I already had taken some measures for those who might want to stay, I had bought extra food and other things. But I also had checked with churches in other cities, if they could receive us when we would need to flee. I was very happy with the churches that offered us a place to stay!”
Pastor George wanted to support both groups, the ones who wanted to leave and those who wanted to stay. “Personally, I didn’t want to leave if there still was one member of the church in Qamishli left here. We knew we could expect anything of those groups fighting with the Turkish army. It was very hard, also for me as a father. How could I help those who would stay and those who would leave? If only one person would stay, I also would stay. It is as a father who doesn’t want to leave his family, for me the church is my family, I wouldn’t leave them.”
“People should know that there is a pastor in Qamishli helping those in need, not depending on their denomination.” The pastor went to visit people who were wounded and prayed with them, he encouraged them. “When you want to show Gods love, you cannot close your eyes and not see their needs. We want to show practical love to the people, not looking at from what background they are.”
As Qamishli was not taken by the Turkish army, displaced persons came to that small city from places that were occupied by the Turkish armed forces and the militia that fight with them. “They came so afraid. As the colder season was approaching, we provided them with good winter clothes, like jackets and socks and shoes for those without shoes. The church also helped with small amounts of cash, so that families had money to buy what they needed. We didn’t want to be blind for the need of the people. All people are created in the image of God, we want to show love to all people. Jesus taught us to show love, to accept other people. This motivated us to show God’s love in a very practical way to the people. We didn’t look at their background, if they were Christians or Muslims. We helped them all.” The church is helping some 120 families a month.
Pastor George Moushi sitting on a wall and looking down, having seen the destruction in the house. He visits members of his church that have suffered especially during the war.
“It is normal to be persecuted”
The pastor knows that all those who convert from a Muslim background, run a big risk in the Muslim-majority society. “It is normal for them to be persecuted when they believe in Christ,” the pastor says. “Jesus said ‘in the world you will have trouble’. The road with Jesus is not padded with flowers, but it’s enough that in the end they will have eternal life. These converts are more persecuted because of their families and background. Their religion forbids conversion. Whoever leaves Islam should be killed.”
The church gives support to those families. “I see in many of them that they are not scared, even of being killed. Many declared their faith and were subjected to beatings and were denied from their properties, some were kicked out of their houses, but they are holding on to Jesus.”
The pastor already saw all different types of persecution. “Some were threatened to be killed by their family, they had to flee to a safer place. A family was threatened by the leaders of Islam, they had to flee. Some were beaten up, some women were forced to return to Islam. But you can say, despite all the persecution they hold on to Jesus. Persecution made them hold stronger on to Jesus.”
“Thank you for helping them to remain in Syria”
To those who donated he says: “Thank you for your help to make that possible. Please continue to help us. There is a lot of poverty, the fall of the Syrian pound effects everyone. Many families now live of an income of only 50 dollars a month. This is really a hard situation. Of course, we cannot help them with all their needs, but we can offer them the basics. When a needy family wouldn’t receive support, they naturally would leave the country. Thank you for helping them to remain in Syria.”
“Thank you for helping us before the Turkish invasion and after that. Please continue to help. Recently a lot of poor families, displaced families came to our place. Our city is a shelter for them. Because of your help we can lighten the pressure on the families. The need continues, the need is big in Syria. The poverty is growing because of the situation in the country. Helping these people is helping them to stay.”
*Names changed for security reasons
- Pray for Syria. Pray that the economy will recover. The war isn’t over yet. Pray that Christians will stay in the country. But also, that their basic needs are met and that they won’t be tempted to do bad things to support their family. I often see people searching the garbage bins for food in the streets, the situation is bad. I hope the people will stay firm in Jesus.
- Pray that there will be job-opportunities for the people.”
The Syrian church has face war, persecution — now pandemic.
Will you stand with them today?