Reverend Ibrahim is an Open Doors partner in Aleppo, Syria. In this interview, he shares how his church is helping, his hopes for the future and what Open Doors supporters can do to stand alongside those who are vulnerable and suffering.
I asked the president of the Aleppo school to open the school and make space so we can receive people as a shelter there. Then I went back to my church, to see what happened to it. The front part of the church was very dangerous. It was going to fall. However, I was not so concerned about the building – I was concerned about the parish and the people there. So I told the people who were in the church, who went there for safety, that it was not safe anymore. I said, “Please go out of the church and go to our shelter in the school.”
At that second, I said, “It is not enough to get people into the shelter. People are out of their homes with nothing. What should be done now?”
So I decided to get all the people around me – a team of the church elders, the ladies’ committee, the volunteers in the Sunday School, those who work with us in the clinic centre. I asked everybody, please let’s go out – there’s a lot to be done. I am so grateful to God for all of our partners who dedicated a lot of their money, their emotions, their prayers for those of us in Aleppo.
"I started to organise the shelter, and this shelter was open to everybody." Rev. Ibrahim
I started to organise the shelter, and this shelter was open to everybody. We never asked the people about their religion, we never asked about their ethnicity. I thought about what Jesus said: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in […] Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35, 40)
So I said to everybody, go ahead and let us start feeding the people. They were thirsty, and I said to bring drinkable water to everybody – there was a danger that the water they had wasn’t clean because of the earthquake. We also brought mattresses and blankets.
On the first day, we received 633 people, whom we took care of. On the second day we received 697 people, whom we took care of. On the third day, we received 253, whom we took care of. I don’t remember the other numbers on the days after. And every day we provide 1,500 sandwiches for lunch for public shelters, as nobody can afford food. We offer them food and water. This isn’t just for Christians, by the way. The shelters are for anybody.
What we did, as a church, by the grace of God – we were there. It was really a blessing that the church was available when others weren’t yet. We were, from the beginning, taking care of the community – trying to bring a type of peace into the lives of people.
They have seen Jesus Christ working through us. That He was and is and will be with us in the critical times. In one way or another, the church was carrying the living existence of Jesus Christ among the suffering society, among the community that was feeling that God was far away from them. One woman, a non-Christian, wanted to thank us but didn’t even know the word 'Christian'. “People of the cross,” she told me, “you were our family, taking care of us.”
"It was really a blessing that the church was available when others weren’t yet." Rev. Ibrahim
Instead of concentrating on the bad situation, I was leading the church of Aleppo in how to deal with this critical situation – bringing transformation in the lives of society because of the presence of Jesus Christ within this church. To be salt and light in this intolerable situation. Later on, I had to deal with other critical questions that were raised by our community: Why did Jesus do that? And I had to teach the people that it is not Jesus or God who did it, because God does not do evil things.
On Sunday morning, our doors were open, and there were 350 people in the worship service – not complaining, but asking God to have mercy over us and deliver us and bring us into deeper relationship with Him.
People were not able even to eat. They were just relying on what we do – food baskets, hygiene baskets we provide them. The situation was critical. The churches were trying to decrease the suffering of the people – but what we can do is so little compared with the needs. For example, someone might receive only twelve dollars per month, which is 19,000 Syrian pounds per month, as a salary. There was no public electricity. For a week, this is 52,000 Syrian pounds – just for lights in the apartment. I’m not speaking about fridge, microwave, wifi routers, ironing clothes. Just for the lights.
If you are sick and want to go to the doctor, they will ask for 25,000 just to examine you. Then he or she will write a prescription for you – and this might reach 200,000 Syrian pounds. And we are having really critical health problems. Whenever people speak to me, I suggest they support the clinic run by the church – to give medicine to the people for free, who cannot afford the medicine.
You have to know that, only 30km from us, from Antioch, Christianity spread all over the world. We need to keep Christians in this place, in this country. We need to support their presence. If the economy isn’t helping them, we as churches all around the world, we should be their economy. We should be their schools, to teach them. We should be their fuel, where they can’t have coal.
Your prayers, your giving, your being with us as one church – not in terms of our denominations, but the church of Christ – can make a real difference in keeping these people in their countries.
As for me – I had chances to leave, and I chose not to leave. It is to do with my identity – I believe I am called to be a servant of Jesus Christ, and I have to be a good shepherd. When everything is ok in this country, maybe it will be time for my family to leave, to emigrate. But for now, I will remain. Nothing at all is attractive to me in this part of the country. What is attracting me to be in this country is Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ. He was the hope and is the hope and will always be the hope in this part of the country. I was not called to serve Him in very comfortable countries. He said, “Those who want to follow me have to carry their cross.” I don’t think it is by accident that I am here – I think God has intention and has purpose in having me in this part of the world.
And my family, too. My wife is the most vital supporter of me. My children too. We are called to be a family of servants, not individual servants. We face difficulties together and we face challenges together. We live hope together.
Thank you. Prayer is very important. Being one church is crucial. First of all, reconciliation between the people. Second, one church – we need to be one church, and to be unique here. Thirdly, I ask that God would accept our ministry, although it is not perfect.
You can give now to support Open Doors partners in Syria and Turkey as they support people impacted by the earthquakes, and for the long-term. Your gift can help provide emergency food, shelter and other relief to those affected, as well as long-term support.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.