Aleppo churches open doors to displaced Muslim families

Source: WorldWatchMonitor

Aleppo, November 3, 2016

The Greek Orthodox Church has organised various activities for families in Aleppo. Courtesy Open Doors International
The Greek Orthodox Church has organised various activities for families in Aleppo. Courtesy Open Doors International

Life hasn’t been easy for 28-year-old Syrian mother
Kristina, a Christian of Armenian descent, who lived with
her husband in Aleppo long before the civil war started in
2011.

It was in that besieged city that Kristina gave birth to
her firstborn daughter, 18 months ago. She’s brought
the little girl to the house where a World Watch Monitor
contact meets her. While her mother talks, the toddler
explores the room.

“Please close the door, I’d like to keep an
eye on her,” Kristina asks, not letting her child
out of her sight.

With the pain still visible in her eyes, Kristina recalls
her first days of being a mother in the spring of 2015
– the war raging outside, electricity, gas and water
cut off most of the time and her family unable to visit
and help her.

“The first two weeks after my daughter was born were
the hardest in my life,” Kristina says. “It
was so cold that we put our mattresses on the living room
floor, the warmest room in the house. There we lived for
two weeks on the ground, wrapped in blankets.”

As soon as it was safe, Kristina, her husband and her baby
daughter travelled to neighbouring Lebanon to safety. At
first it was intended to be a short trip, but when the
violence increased and also the Christian part of Aleppo
was being bombed, the young family decided to wait for the
end of the war before returning to Syria.

“I can’t let my baby girl grow up amidst all
those dangers,” Kristina says.

With the violence continuing and worsening, gradually more
Christians left Aleppo. In Kristina’s church, now
only 10 per cent of the regular church-goers are left, she
hears from friends.

“But you know what’s surprising? The church is
still full; displaced people take their place. Especially
Muslims are coming to the church now,” she says.

In Syria, the Christian children’s activities draw
the most attention, Kristina says. A lot of Syrians from
other parts of Aleppo – the fighting is heaviest in
Muslim areas – have fled to the Christian areas to
seek refuge. For many Muslims, it is the first time they
have mixed with Christians.

“Many Muslims were genuinely surprised when they met
Christian women in our churches willing to serve them.
Their image was that all Christian women spend most of
their days dancing in night clubs and drinking alcohol!
Meeting each other was a shock, both for them and for
us,” says Kristina.

Kristina also says the Muslim women were surprised to see
that churches offered support and programmes for all
Syrians, not just for Christians.

“Their mosques don’t do that,” Kristina
says. “Many are re-thinking the faith they grew up
in and have dropped their hostility towards
Christians.”

Many Muslims were genuinely surprised when they met
Christian women in our churches willing to serve them.
Their image was that all Christian women spend most of
their days dancing in night clubs and drinking alcohol!
Meeting each other was a shock, both for them and for us.

A growing number of Muslim children have been attending
the children’s activities, where the Bible is opened
daily.

“The mothers are okay with that,” says
Kristina. “They see it as positive if their children
learn about God. It’s the husbands who are stricter,
usually.”

But, gradually, also the mothers and, in some cases, whole
Muslim families have found their way to the church
activities, including the services.

“That absolutely did not happen before the
war,” Kristina says. “Still the Muslims are
afraid – especially when entering and leaving the
building – but they are there. The children have
opened the church’s doors, then the women followed,
and finally the men.”

Kristina says Muslim women “feel liberated when they
notice the church doesn’t see them as merely
machines only fit for cleaning, giving birth to children,
and raising them, like many Muslim men do”.

“In Islam, many women don’t have any rights.
When they feel how Christians really care for them, it
feels like heaven for those women. They see it’s
possible to live as independent women, to dream,”
Kristina says.

Despite the war, Kristina speaks of a “golden
age” for the Church in the Middle East.

“For the first time in history, Muslims are coming
to us. The only thing we have to do is tell them the good
news; they are waiting for it,” she says.
“They realise that, when living in a Christian
environment, the [Christian message] will be shared. They
may even see it as a sign of weakness if it
isn’t.”

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