Amid the horrors of war and persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere, swelling ranks of displaced Christians are crying out for help even while the media spotlight often shines elsewhere.
Christians in Syria, for example, are being specifically targeted for their faith and are fleeing their homes in increasing numbers. A Syrian pastor describes the conditions in his city as both horrific and deteriorating.
“Millions are not sleeping in their own beds, forced out of their homes to find themselves with their children homeless and living in public parks or in the wilderness,” he says. “Others are not sure if they or their children and loved ones will see the light of a new day. Tens of thousands of families lost loved ones – a child, a father, a mother or a husband.”
The United Nations reports over the past two years, the civil war between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the rebel groups has killed over 60,000 people, mostly civilians. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the country into neighboring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, according to the United Nations. In addition, about 2.5 million Syrians need aid inside the country, with more than 1.2 million displaced domestically.The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has reported the number of externally displaced from Syria might reach 1 million by June. There are an estimated 42.5 million displaced persons worldwide.
In Syria, for example, houses of Christian families in the city of Homs are being destroyed or occupied by Salafist and Islamic Jihad fighters or simply by Muslims seeking shelter. Those affected not only lose their homes, but also their income, their children’s education and any medical help. Christian leaders in various denominations tell agencies such as Open Doors that followers of Christ are often singled out because they are seen as soft targets.
Open Doors estimates that between 20,000 and 25,000 Christian families in Syria have become displaced. They are receiving help from brothers and sisters in the faith through a church network started by Open Doors four years ago to provide relief supplies, trauma counseling and biblical training to Iraqi Christian refugees who fled to Syria.
The Open Doors aid today includes clothing, stoves, heating fuel, medicines and hygiene kits, as well as Bibles and spiritual training. We aim to help 1,200 families a month for the rest of the year.
While Open Doors finds itself positioned strategically right at the heart of the crisis in Syria, we see the worldwide picture, too. Of course we will help our brothers and sisters in an area saturated with media coverage. But we cannot forget others who do not have news cameras in their faces. That’s why we are gearing up for our new and critically important Displaced Peoples Project.
This campaign will help suffering believers not only in Syria, but also in volatile places such as Iraq, Egypt, South Sudan, Mali, Laos and Nigeria, where we have contacts and resources on the ground to make a difference.
In the North African nation of Mali, extremist Muslims took control in the north last year and are targeting Christians, who are being forced to flee. Mali’s population is about 87 percent Muslim and less than 3 percent Christian. Barnabas Fund reported that more than 200,000 Malian Christians were displaced from their homes and forced to seek safety in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mauritania, as well as the capital city of Bamako.
“Our brothers and sisters in Mali are in a desperate plight,” said Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund. “Forced to flee their homes to save their lives amid a violent Islamist takeover that includes the specific targeting of Christians, they are distressed and in great need.”
The trend of Christians being driven from their homes has been longstanding in the Middle East, but believers have also been targeted in other regions of the globe. Last summer, for example, Christians in Jos, Nigeria, bravely went to church after hearing reports over loudspeaker that more than 100 Islamic suicide bombers, fully armed, had arrived in the city. The result? Sixty-five Christians were slaughtered that Sunday morning, and more than a thousand were displaced when their homes were burned down.
In the East African nation of Sudan, meanwhile, Christians are fleeing in droves.
The Christian human rights group Barnabas Aid reports that 1,500 Christians have been safely airlifted from Khartoum to South Sudan. The airlift is part of Barnabas Aid’s Exodus Project, which has taken over 3,500 Christians to safety.
In Iraq, the ethnic cleansing against Christians that began with the start of the Iraq War a decade ago has reduced the number of churches from about 300 in 2003 to only 57 today, according to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization. Open Doors estimates the number of Christians declined from 1.2 million in the early 1990’s to 330,000 now. “The last 10 years have been the worst for Iraqi Christians because they bore witness to the biggest exodus and migration in the history of Iraq,” says William Warda, the head of the local Hammurabi Human Rights Organization.
In response to these and other needs, the Displaced Peoples Project allows Open Doors to embrace uprooted believers and provide them with the means not only to survive but to remain as salt and light in restrictive and difficult regions around the world.
For more information and to support the Displaced Peoples Project campaign with your gifts, please go to www.opendoorsusa.org/displaced.
Jerry Dykstra is media relations director for Open Doors USA, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry supporting and strengthening persecuted Christians since 1955. For more information, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Publication date: March 27, 2013