22 November 2016

Church in Syria to celebrate Christmas by serving refugees

A Syrian church leader has told Open Doors how his church will celebrate Christmas by taking gifts to refugees and telling refugee children the nativity story.

The church leader from Tartus, a city on the Syrian coast, known as Pastor B, says, "Because of the war there is no decoration in the church. There are no lights, no Christmas tree. There is pain in every mouth, even our neighbours, there is pain and a lot of grieving. So we as a church, because we respect their feelings, stop these celebrations.

"During Christmas time we go to the camps and we do a play for children. We talk to these children about how Jesus was born in a cave and how Jesus fled from one area to the other, like them, and how God protected Jesus the same way he is protecting them now.

"When we present the gifts to them, the gifts are brought from the children in the church, and this brings also joy to the families in the church - they learn that the true meaning of Christmas is to go and help those who are in need. Our children they have clothes, but there are children who don't have any clothes; our children have food and they have shoes, but there are children who have neither food nor shoes.

"We celebrate Christmas now by bringing our church members together and bringing things to give to the children who don't have anything. This is one beautiful thing at Christmas."

Pastor B's church in Tartus is supporting 2,000 displaced families every month with the support of Open Doors. He says, "The biggest need is to pay for the rent, and also the need for food supplies and clothes. These families lost their jobs, and lost all their belongings and their homes. And because of them being displaced to these safe areas, the cost of goods in Tartus has risen up ten times, including rent. And now we don't have any houses for rent, and that has caused lots of problems."

Open Doors works through local partners and churches like Pastor B's across Syria. In 2016 they were able to provide support for 12,000 families each month, including food and hygiene packages, blankets, mattresses, winterisation materials, medicines and rent subsidies.

In the first nine months of 2016, Open Doors partners distributed 12,341 Bibles, 1,624 Study Bibles, 6,834 Children's Bibles, 73,792 New Testaments and other Christian literature. Many displaced people fled their homes with only the clothes they were wearing, leaving their Bibles behind, while others are coming to church for the first time and asking for Bibles of their own. Pastor B says, "People are thirsty to know more about God."

Alongside emergency aid and Bibles, Open Doors partners are also providing long-term support such as trauma care, training and micro-loans. Open Doors partners are also helping some families who have been able to return home to rebuild their houses; this is happening in Maaloula, Homs and Damascus.

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Note to editors:

For more information, call the Open Doors press office on 01993 777377 or 07484000441

Syria is number 5 on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. Open Doors is working through local partners and churches in Syria to provide crisis relief, trauma training, biblical training for church leaders, socio-economic development projects such as microloans for displaced people, and distributing Bibles and Christian literature.

This year, Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East campaign, a global, seven-year campaign mobilising Christians around the world to stand with the church in the Middle East. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which will be presented to the UN in June 2017. The petition calls for equality, dignity and responsibility for Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, the key things Christians and church leaders from these nations have said they want for the future.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year supporters in the UK and Ireland raised over £11.7 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.