By Ibrahim, Open Doors Partner
Ibrahim (name changed) is an Open Doors partner living and working in Aleppo, Syria. In this article, he shares his heartfelt reflections on the current situation – and how the words of Jacob in Genesis 42 are helping change his perspective.
“When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, ‘The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. But we said to him, “We are honest men; we are not spies. We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.”
“‘Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, “This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.”’
“As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. Their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!’”
On 2 February, my friend Samih and his wife Maria had a new-born child, Ralph. Maria delivered the baby with a C-section surgery. And all mothers know how painful the stitches are after giving birth. To her misery, 96 hours after delivering Ralph, the earthquake hit. No electricity, a mother of two sons in pain, a house on the fifth floor, shaking heavily, Maria had to go down five floors in the freezing cold to be safe. She slept in the car with her Ralph.
For years Maria and Samih barely afford to cover their expenses. Samih always said to me that, despite all the challenges, he still feels he is here in Syria for a purpose. He is a great believer.
Now after what happened, the family is fighting more than ever to leave the country! He told me yesterday: we are really desperate to leave.
Well, even before the earthquake, these words are not unfamiliar to my ears. I got used to hearing such decisions from the people around me. Almost every Christian wants to leave the country. And for me it just feels awful.
However, what really struck me is not this friend’s determination to leave, but what he said later. He said that this country is no longer a home for his children. That he can’t see any signs of a secure and decent future for them as a Christian family living in the Middle East.
"In everything happening, we see how Christians are negatively affected more than any other group." Ibrahim
And to be frank with you, indeed, for us as Syrian Christians, everything looks bleak and hopeless.
Changes are taking place, and it always looks like it’s happening against us as the people of God. We see more manifestations of Islamic fanaticism, more terroristic threats, and more economic crises and even devastating earthquakes. We see civil wars, coups and political changes. And in everything happening, we see how Christians are negatively affected more than any other group.
The Bible says that all things work together for good. And again, frankly speaking, we can’t perceive any good in what is happening. We can’t see any good in Taliban overrunning Afghanistan. And we can’t see any good in hundreds of thousands of Christians leaving my country. I think of my city Aleppo. From two hundred thousand Christians to fewer than thirty thousand.
In the passage we read, we see Jacob receiving the news of his son Simeon being kept by the rulers of Egypt. And the condition set for releasing Simeon, is to risk another son, Benjamin. And we all know the deep love and affection that Jacob had for his youngest beloved Benjamin.
After the sacks were emptied, and the money bundles were found, Jacob would have surely expected that Simeon’s fate is at stake. He shouts these words: “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin.”
Jacob became a bereaved father. He is not only admitting the death of Joseph, but he is also declaring the death penalty on Simeon. Jacob reaches the culmination of his lamenting words by saying: “Everything is against me.”
I believe that as Middle Eastern Christians we are now in the very part of the story where Jacob is. The same lament Jacob expressed is adopted by us nowadays. Everything is against us.
But I would like us to examine this lament closely. Joseph is no more. This is what Jacob said. Was this claim true? Of course, the truth is that Joseph was not dead. And not only that, but he was also one of the most powerful people in the whole region.
Simeon is no more. Simeon, who was also considered dead by Jacob, was not in any danger. He was rather in the safest place in the whole world. He was at his brother’s place. And not only that, while Jacob and his sons were barely eating, Simeon was living in abundance.
Everything is against me. For Jacob, this was the end of the story. A bereaved father who lost two sons and is about to lose the third. A currently hopeless father who is destined to more hopelessness in the future. For him, everything is, and would, be against him.
But as we know from the rest of the story, Jacob was completely mistaken. What we would discover later from the story is that all that happened was not against Jacob, but rather for the sake of Jacob.
Jacob, it is not true that everything is against you. The truth is that everything is for you. You are the blessed one in this story. I can’t help but see the similarities between what is happening now and what had happened with Jacob. And this is very reassuring to me, personally, to remember that everything happening now is happening for our sake, the people of God. That our lament is as wrong as Jacob’s.
Maybe I can’t understand now how God is busy working on a great ending for our story. But I am sure that I am now as blind as Jacob was, and that sooner or later I will look back at the sequence of events of our story and realise that everything that happened was designed by God to glorify His name and to bless His church in the Middle East.
"We have no other choice than to be armed with hope." Ibrahim
We have no other choice than to be armed with the hope that the God who blessed Jacob and designed everything to save Jacob’s family from the famine, will also design everything to bless His children in the Middle East. No doubt, it is very difficult to spread this hope and this belief to the Christians living in the region – but this is the core of our calling: to encourage Christians not to lose hope and to remember that our God is in control of everything happening around us.
I believe that in the near future, or maybe in the far future, facts will unfold and be revealed to us. And only then will we realise how, along the way, we failed to understand the unfathomable wisdom of God.
I will end with what Samih shared on WhatsApp yesterday. After everything that’s happened, he still trusts the Lord. He shared these words: “Do not worry: God does exist, your hairs are numbered, your name is inscribed on the palms of His hands, He is responsible for you, He cares for you!”
Lord, we feel crushed by what is happening, but we know You will render this randomness into beauty! We know that You care for us! We are certain that everything is happening for us and not against us!
Lord God, we join with Ibrahim in trusting that You are in control. We thank You for Your unfathomable wisdom and pray that Your will be done in Syria. Give Christians in the Middle East ever-increasing hope, and equip local Open Doors partners to spread that message of encouragement and faith to all of Your children in the region. Amen.
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