Pastor Edward's Centre of Hope is making hope last for his Syrian community - one of many projects established during Hope for the Middle East.
“It’s a prolonged crisis, without seeing an end,” says Pastor Edward, an Open Doors partner in Syria. “On the other hand, we experience divine light amid darkness.”
That’s his answer when asked about the situation – for Syria, but also for the whole persecuted church in the Middle East. You might remember meeting Pastor Edward at the beginning of Open Doors’ seven-year Hope for the Middle East campaign, in 2016. The initial vision for the campaign was to keep hope alive for the church through emergency relief for survival, and long-term help to rebuild shattered lives, through income-generation, leadership training and trauma counselling. That vision remains strong today.
Six years on, it’s clear from speaking to Pastor Edward again that your gifts and prayers are making a huge difference in the lives of many men, women and children who faithfully follow Jesus no matter the cost. It’s also clear that the crisis is far from over, and we need to keep going in bringing hope to the Middle East.
"The church was bleeding. We lost over 60 per cent of our members." Pastor Edward
“The church was bleeding,” says Pastor Edward, looking back at the decade of persecution, war and pandemic that continues to have a severe impact. “We lost over 60 per cent of our members; they left Syria. It was so hard. Many of them had positions of leadership in the church.”
All Syrians and Iraqis have experienced hardship in the past decade, but Christians have faced more than most. In many regions, they were targeted by Islamic militants – losing their jobs, their homes and even their lives. Many had to flee, displaced either within Syria or abroad. Those who stayed either had no choice, or decided – like Pastor Edward – to courageously remain with the church.
The church hasn’t fully recovered its numbers yet, and Covid-19 derailed many attempts to rebuild lives and communities – but Pastor Edward has seen, and is seeing, God at work. “When we look back, we will see how the hand of the Lord was moving,” he says. “Some places were hit very hard, but the result was a great expansion of the Kingdom. God opened doors for the gospel.”
The establishment of Centres of Hope in Syria and Iraq, thanks to the persistent prayers and support of Open Doors supporters, is a key way those doors have opened. During Hope for the Middle East, 160 Centres of Hope have been established in Syria, and 126 in Iraq – and there are plans for more. These Centres of Hope are places (often church buildings) where the local church can support their community practically and spiritually. The activities and provision differ depending on the context, but often include vital food and medical aid, Bible study and discipleship, training, income-generating projects and trauma care. It’s hard to overstate the impact they’re having.
At the beginning of the campaign, Pastor Edward said: “It’s very important and meaningful for us, as Middle Eastern people, to see the church stay – to do the work of Christ here, like a light in the darkness.” That’s exactly what he has done ever since. At Pastor Edward’s Centre of Hope in Damascus, a lot of community connection was fostered by distributing emergency food and medicine. “The church has distributed relief items to the neediest. There were months where we gave over a thousand packages. We brought love and care to the people in need, in the name of Christ.
"It’s very important and meaningful for us, as Middle Eastern people, to see the church stay." Pastor Edward
“We are the ambassadors of Christ in the country,” Pastor Edward says, of his church and the whole, growing network of Centres of Hope in Syria and Iraq. “We stayed with the message of light, when the embassies of the nations closed their doors. We gained a lot of respect from the whole community. People were touched by what we did as a church.
“Yes, it is tough, the experiences are painful but, at the same time, the Lord has His divine project. We are somehow instruments in His hand to complete this project.”
Centres of Hope support their local communities in many ways – one of which is a medical clinic that Pastor Edward and his wife, Rana, started in 2006. Called ‘Jesus, Light of the World’, the clinic serves 1,500 people a month – both Christian and Muslim. It really is shining Christ’s light to the community, most of whom couldn’t otherwise afford healthcare.
“Most of the patients are non-Christians,” says Pastor Edward. “They can tell that there is something different in this clinic. Most of our doctors and staff are committed Christians who really try to serve medically and, at the same time, bring the cure of Christ.”
It’s clear that the clinic is having a significant impact – thanks to people like Pastor Edward, and to your prayers and gifts. “People feel the respect and love of our staff,” says Pastor Edward. “Many of them ask questions about Christ and about the Word of God. Patients in the clinic come from all backgrounds, and especially people from non-Christian backgrounds love the clinic.”
"Many of the patients ask questions about Christ and about the Word of God." Pastor Edward
The need for the services of the clinic, and for the other provisions of Syria and Iraq’s many Centres of Hope, is greater than ever. “The economic situation now is the lowest ever in the country,” says Pastor Edward. Though the conflict has died down from its peak, everyday life is extremely difficult for most people. “For the first time in our country, the middle class is now close to starvation.”
With your ongoing support and prayers, many more doors can be opened. More vulnerable believers can be equipped to ensure the church survives in the Middle East, and more non-Christians can see the light of Christ. With your help, Open Doors partners will continue bringing practical support and spiritual encouragement to the region for as long as it is needed.
When the campaign started, Pastor Edward said: “I feel that I am privileged to bring the only message of hope to people who are in desperation – they need that message of hope.” Six years on, it’s a message that is as vital as ever. And Pastor Edward knows that he still needs you:
“The support of the church globally is very vital – we know that we are not left alone,” he says. “We belong to the larger body of Christ. Your support makes it possible to bring the light of Christ further.”
Thank you for all you’ve done. There’s so much more to do. Keep bringing hope to the Middle East.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.