Falit has recently become a father. But it could all have been so different when a bomb went off outside his house in autumn last year. His story is a reminder of the threat posed to the Syrian people by the ongoing conflict plaguing the country, which rumbles on alongside the more recent impact of Covid-19 as well as the risk of persecution many Christians face because of their faith. Your prayers and support are as vital as ever in helping bring hope to the Middle East.
This year, many of our lives have been substantially altered by the impact of Covid-19. Routines have changed, everyday pleasures cut back, church reimagined.
But in many parts of the world, the shaking up of these things happened long before the pandemic hit.
This is certainly the case in Syria where, alongside the recent impact of Covid-19, the ongoing impact of conflict continues.
Someone who has experienced first-hand the effects of conflict is Falit*, a Christian in Qamishli who has survived not just one attack by so-called Islamic State, but two.
The first was in 2015. He was outside his mobile phone shop sitting with his friends when two terrorists arrived on the street and opened fire.
“They started shooting around,” he recalls. “All my friends – we were a group of 10 – got injured. I was okay, as I had thrown myself flat on the street. I was laying on the street for maybe up to 20 minutes. Nine of my close friends got injured, and three other friends died.” Their names were George, Touma and Karam. “They were all shot when they tried to run away.”
Falit reflects on the moment his friend, Khachik, tried to help George but got shot. Eight bullets hit him but, fortunately, he did not die. “I cannot get that scene out of my mind.”
He continues, “After about 20 minutes, some of the Kurdish militia and Syrian army came from different directions to help us. The terrorists kept on shooting and threw hand grenades. In the end, they exploded themselves.”
The incident felt surreal for Falit, prompting a multitude of thoughts. “I felt as if I was part of an action movie. It was very difficult,” he remembers. “All the time I only thought that I was going to die. There wasn’t place in my mind to think of those at home waiting for me. And I prayed, I prayed.
“I kept on saying to him: ‘Please stay alive, stay alive.’” Falit*
“At one moment, I felt that I would be taken to the other side. I could remember how I had lived and remembered my sins. I prayed in tears, asking Jesus to give me a new life, a life as His servant. This all happened in the first 10 minutes.”
Falit found refuge in a shop, taking Khachik with him. A bullet entered his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe. “I gave Khachik my wet shirt to put in his his mouth ,” he explains. “I kept on saying to him: ‘Please stay alive, stay alive.’”
But they couldn’t stay long in the shop. A car outside caught fire and filled the shop with smoke. Then there was another big explosion.
Falit left the shop, carrying Khachik on his back. They reached the Syrian army and were taken to hospital. Falit stayed there two days, taking care of his wounded friends.
The mobile phone shop was badly damaged – Falit never reopened it at that place. For several months he worked for the church, helping in the relief work serving people affected by the Syrian crisis. “Later on, I could rent another place to open the shop again,” he says.
Last autumn, Falit was caught up in another coordinated attack when several bombs exploded in Qamishli. Later, so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Falit had just left home to get something for his pregnant wife, who was sick at the time, when a car bomb exploded just outside his home and church.
“I heard the bomb explosion and I looked back,” he remembers. “I saw a large cloud of smoke. Immediately I saw it was close to our house. I ran back. Some of the Kurdish soldiers ran with me. I didn’t care about the debris and fire, I only wanted to reach my wife. The doors of the house were broken, there was glass everywhere.
“When I arrived home, my wife was shivering with fear, crying hard, because she thought that I had been in the middle of the bombing.”
Falit’s wife was in their bedroom when the bomb went off. It was the only room that wasn’t damaged. The rest of their house was destroyed. The next day, Falit and his friend repaired the doors and windows. Two days after that, his wife gave birth to a baby girl.
It’s nearly 10 years since the conflict in Syria began. Progress has been made during this time, but ongoing threats remain.
Falit’s story illustrates the delicate vulnerability – as does the bombing of northern Syria, including Qamishli, in October 2019 by Turkish armed forces, causing more death and destruction. This came at a time when your support, through our seven-year Hope for the Middle East campaign, meant believers could begin returning to their homes in Syria to rebuild their lives. The attacks have hindered efforts to help Christians return to a semblance of normality.
“It’s tragic. We’re in dire need of funds to support a larger number of families.” Pastor George
Then there is the devastating impact of Covid-19. Food prices have risen and healthcare is insufficiently resourced to cope with the increased and unique demands of the virus. Meanwhile, hygiene in internally displaced people (IDP) camps is poor and people are forced to live very close to each other, leading to increased risk of being infected with Covid-19.
“I see men, women and children crying of hunger,” Pastor George, an Open Doors partner, shares. “It’s tragic. We’re in dire need of funds to support a larger number of families.”
Your faithful prayers and support have been instrumental in bringing hope to Syria. The impact cannot be underestimated. However the continuing threat and long-term effects of conflict – together with the more recent devastation caused by Covid-19, and other issues including the ongoing risk of persecution facing many Christians because of their faith – means your help is as important as it has ever been in Syria.
*Name changed for security reasons