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Christianity Today Europe Middle East Published Articles

Is It ‘Christian’ for Europe to Welcome Refugees from Ukraine but Not Syria?

Image: Together for the Family

As Ukraine continues to be battered by Russia, Syrian refugees know what to pray for better than most.

“This is what happened to us,” said refugee students at the Together for the Family center in Zahle, Lebanon. “We don’t want it to happen to others.”

Born in Homs, Syria, to a Baptist pastor, Izdihar Kassis married a Lebanese man and then founded the center in 2006. She shifted her ministry to care for “her people” when the Syrian civil war started in 2011. About 50 traumatized teenagers find counseling there every year, and 300 have graduated from the center’s vocational programs.

As the refugees discussed the “horrible” situation in Europe during the weekly chapel service, Kassis suggested intercession. Bowing their heads, the 40 children and 30 Syrian staff and volunteers knew better than anyone what to ask for.

But one child wanted to be sure the Ukrainians would know of their solidarity. He went outside into the cold and snow of the Bekaa Valley, where most of Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees take shelter.

His sign proclaimed, “Praying for peace.”

Since the invasion, about 4 million of Ukraine’s population of 43 million have become refugees. Another 6.5 million are internally displaced.

Yet 11 years since its civil war, most of Syria’s 6.8 million refugees—out of a population of 20 million—still live in limbo. Europe largely shut its doors, certainly in comparison to its warm welcome of those fleeing Russian aggression.

Many have taken offense.

“There is the perennial double standard and selective outrage of global news media, Western governments (and, sadly, even Western Churches) when it comes to reporting on wars, conflicts and the plight of refugees,” stated Vinoth Ramachandra from Sri Lanka, a senior leader with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), affiliated with InterVarsity.

“If Ukrainians were not blonde and blue-eyed, would their plight have occasioned [this] outpouring of compassion?”

It is a fair question. Is European hypocrisy—even racism—on full display?

Arab Christians are not quick to judge.

Born in Syria, Joseph Kassab today heads the Beirut-based Supreme Council of the Evangelical Churches in Syria and Lebanon. He notes the more than one million countrymen taken in by Europe—Western Europe, primarily. Eastern nations, he said, are still recovering from the communist era and have not yet developed the same sense of human rights.

There should be no discrimination, yet even this he understands. The early church struggled to open its mission to non-Jews.

“Racism is in every society,” Kassab said. “But Europeans have been more welcoming to the Syrians than many Lebanese.”

Being Muslim is a factor, said Elie Haddad, president of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. But also important is that most are rural, uneducated farmers. Legitimate or not, people are uncomfortable with difference.

Europe is a bit hypocritical, but so is he.

“If a faculty member needs shelter, I will open my home,” Haddad said. “For a stranger, not so much.” One who did open his home is a Frenchman…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on March 25, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Syria Intertwined

God,

Prayers are said for gasoline, as people wait in line.

Naught to do but ask your help in hope it will remain.

And prayers are said for Shiite sheikh, as people mourn his death.

Tributes came from every sect, remembering his cause.

But do these prayers all miss the mark? Do they reveal a focus on

The nation as deciding force? On Lebanon, strong and sovereign?

God, we pray that this might be, for agency and power.

Yet Syria—torn by civil war—is still the land of reckoning.

The novel solution proposed by the States would power Beirut via Cairo-Amman.

But to work it needs sign-off, Damascus to say: Yes and you’re welcome, we’re back in the fold.

And even Resistance will flow from the north, as oil imported from Tehran docks there.

Avoiding the sanctions it’s loaded on trucks, to then cross the border—a smuggling in reverse?

God, why must work-around characterize our land?

God, can we not solve our problems ourselves?

Ever so clever, dodge this way and that—as names and portfolios circle and fall.

Ever the posture in cabinet formation: To squeeze a concession while all around burns.

God, forgive us.

God, rebuke.

God, empower us.

God, inspire.

What can we pray we have not asked already? God, we are tired. We are weary, depressed.

We need you to lift up our spirits and heal us. We need a reminder your justice will come.

Until then give us patience in every gas station. May prayers be exchanged, not gunfire or fists.

And honor the efforts of every true cleric, aiming to serve you through country and sect.

God, maybe Syria intertwines with our nation.

Let these prayers—centered here—bless us both, and beyond.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Prayers

The Syrian Vote

God,

The question is valid: Why are they here?

Tooting their horns and waving their flags.

If Assad you want, then go back to Syria.

Stop milking our welcome; your country is safe.

The question is valid, perhaps even fair.

But reactions conflict with your welcome of us.

God we are sinners, and yet received grace.

And still we keep sinning. We spit in your face.

In this world we are strangers, depend on your care.

So we can give freely, of what we receive.

Now it is less.

Am I also so?

But God, they have smuggled the best of our goods.

They eat up resources in our time of want.

Yet they fled their homeland. They left all, to live.

God, it is politics – make right the wrongs.

Give peace to Syria. Help them return home.

And of Lebanon’s policy: What to decide?

May it honor the nation, then, also the guest.

Repatriation: A respectful return.

Refugee care: Needs aid from abroad.

But Lebanese also are living impoverished.

As one member of government insulted the Gulf.

He lost his position. Did he set back the nation

In efforts to regain financial support?

And at home politicians aired blame in the parliament.

Give push to the leaders to come to accord.

Guide them as they vie for the rights of their sect,

To not lose the nation in privilege they dwell.

God, in all politics, protect the heart.

Let us show mercy. We need it ourselves.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Oxygen

God,

Syria sent oxygen – Syria.

Syria in civil war. Syria in disarray.

Syria helped Lebanon.

Bless them for it.

But some say Damascus is behind many ills.

Smuggling in medicine, dollars, and flour.

Sending back refugees while Cesar Act smothers;

The least they can give is a few tanks of air.

Syria also needs prayer, God.

Raise up intercessors.

But so do the COVID sick struggling to breathe.

Their numbers keep rising, striking down Easter.

As restaurants open, the churches are squeezed.

Permission is needed to enter for worship

With gatherings nixed and a lockdown imposed.

It is reasonable, God.

But where are the vaccines?

Amid stuttered rollout, private sector takes over.

Many say Lebanon runs better through them.

But who can afford even 38 dollars?

As politicians distribute in areas of support.

The political class that cannot form a government

Finds it way with the patronage voters demand.

Bless them, God.

They take care of their own.

But give Lebanon better.

Take care of the whole.

For now, far too many are flooding the hospitals.

Preventative care is neglected when poor.

Meanwhile ambassadors shuttle through nations.

Are deals being cooked, and at whose expense?

So what can be done, God?

Where is the hope?

Or is Lebanon destined to just trudge along?

It could be worse.

It could be Syria.

But even they find ways to give.

God, let not generosity be lost in Lebanon.

Even in poverty grant fullness of heart.

Destroy not its character, neither the nation.

Rebuild the foundations upon what is good.

Lebanon is good, God.

Help the people remember.

But may they turn to you—for justice, righteousness, and forgiveness.

This is true oxygen, sustaining the soul.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

Trump and Biden Disagree on Sanctions. So Do Evangelicals Outside the US.

Image: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images The headline reads: A New Era for America

If President-elect Joe Biden makes good on his campaign rhetoric, his sanctions policy will meet the approval of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

Back in April, as even the strongest nations reeled from COVID-19, then-candidate Biden petitioned the Trump administration for sanctions relief on the hardest-hit nations—including Iran and Syria.

“In times of global crisis, America should lead,” he said.

“We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.”

In September, the WEA joined Caritas, the World Council of Churches, and others to similarly petition the United Nations’s Human Rights Council.

“We are deeply concerned about the negative economic, social, and humanitarian consequences of unilateral sanctions,” read their statement, ostensibly singling out the United States and its European allies.

“It is a legal and moral imperative to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need, without delay or impediment.”

One month later at the UN, China led 26 nations—including sanctions-hit Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela—to assert that the economic impact impedes pandemic response and undermines the right to health.

This is “disinformation,” said Johnnie Moore, appointed by President Donald Trump to serve on the independent, bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

He called the WEA statement “almost indefensible.”

“Sanctions against countries that imperil their citizens and the world is good policy,” Moore said. “It has proven to be an effective alternative to save lives, alongside diplomatic channels to coerce long-term positive behavior.”

Western nations had already issued fact sheets to undermine China’s claim.

Detailing food, medical, and humanitarian exemptions, the US and European Union (EU) demonstrated that sanctions target regimes and their supporters, not the general population. Christian Solidarity International, however…

This article was originally published by Christianity Today on January 15, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: All or Nothing

God,

The cry of the uprising lumped all together. ‘All of them means all of them.’

Maybe, this time, there might be proof?

In stunning reversal the parliament answered. Open the books, and count every dime.

For week after week the central bank dithered. Offering files while holding back some.

And now that the auditing firm has surrendered, lawmakers pledge a transparent probe.

Every single one.

Every single ministry.

From central bank to local council, the people will know where their money went.

If they keep their word.

God, hold them to it. God, honor their resolve.

God, clean Lebanon thoroughly.

God, have you answered prayer?

Perhaps a first step, but not yet entire.

Many are cynical. Many have cause.

And France renewed its efforts for humanitarian help.

They continue to say they will bypass the system. No national aid without proof of reform.

But donors will gather to assist the people. Bless every dollar to reach the right home.

May all of them mean all of them. Every poor, and every needy.

And every Syrian also.

A wayward one in the north killed a citizen. The Lebanese town then demanded all leave.

Over 200 families fled in their terror. Some ran from houses a mob set ablaze.

May they find shelter in time of displacement. May they find also return to their land.

Many in Lebanon have welcomed the stranger. But many remind Lebanese are now poor.

God, lift the burden that weighs down this nation. And rebuild the neighbor that lies to the east.

Syrians are not monolithic.

And neither are Lebanon’s judges.

The senior policeman called them corrupt. Only five in a hundred weigh justly the scales.

Is he right? Does all mean all?

God, you know.

Make clear your judgments. Set forth the truth.

And may it lead Lebanon to long for your grace.

All does mean all, for all have sinned.

Every judge. Every Syrian. Every citizen. Every lawmaker.

And yet you regard us as singular souls.

Apply your salvation to all who will seek it.

Give national rescue even if none deserve.

In your mercy, God.

With your justice.

Make things right.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Geography

God,

Lebanon has entered a ‘war of the maps.’

Let not the battles be fought within.

A strained round of talks continued with Israel. Each side drew their lines out into the sea.

The disputed middle is ever increasing. But both need agreement to extract from the deep.

God, give them good will.

Let law be clear and justice blind.

But regional politics also.

Syria hosted a conference on refugees. Lebanon said it is time they return.

The Western alignment gave it no credence. Must the leadership change before they go home?

God, give them welcome.

Let the stranger be honored, but not overstay.

Good fences—and borders—help make good neighbors. Let the two peoples be so once again.

And in Lebanon, let them remain.

An unclear assault struck an imam in Jbeil. Muslims protested in Tripoli north.

Leaders demanded a joint Christian statement. One called out France and religious insult.

God, give them clarity.

Let peace prevail. Let facts be known.

Let the spirit of unity drive out division. Thwart all who manipulate means to their ends.

For they are not two peoples, God. They are citizens.

And of Syria, they are brothers.

Even of Israel, they are made in your image.

You divided the nations to frustrate our arrogance. Instead we direct it to rivals outside.

And sometimes, within.

A map is a tool. A border is good. We are not the other.

It is not identity. It is not enmity. And the other is not independent of us.

But war is of the devil.

Lebanon has known this demon for too long, accommodating its spirit.

Drive it away definitively, God. In your holy name.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Trapped in Lebanon, Sudanese Students Find Refuge at Seminary

Image courtesy ABTS

While Liberty University came under criticism for allowing students the option to stay on campus during the coronavirus outbreak, many other schools were also faced with a dilemma concerning the 1.1 million students who came from abroad.

According to a Quartz survey of 36 universities who host a third of the United States’ international students, 26 told those students to leave campus.

Penn State gave three days notice. Harvard gave five. Duke, among others, offered emergency financial aid to help international students return home. Princeton allowed their residency to continue—until the end of the semester.

But Sudanese students at Lebanon’s Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) did not have a choice—even with tickets in hand.

Lebanon was one of the first nations to implement COVID-19 restrictions. Its first case was recorded on February 21, and by March 9 schools were shut down.

Four days later, at a regularly scheduled seminary picnic, Bassem Melki prepared to break the news.

“It was a joyous atmosphere,” said the ABTS dean of students, “but I had sadness in my heart because I knew what I had to say.”

Founded in 1960 and located in the mountains overlooking Beirut, the seminary…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 10, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Arab Christians Have Lost Easter Before. Here’s What They Learned.

Losing Easter Churches
House of St Ananias, Damascus

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 3, 2020.

Christians around the world are about to lose their usual Easter celebration—the highlight of most congregations’ annual life together.

Yes, there will be a livestream. Their pastor will likely call them. They may even chat on Zoom with friends and family.

But it will be different. The community of believers has been sundered by the new coronavirus. And threatened with it is Christ’s body, his bride, his temple for his presence in the world.

If there is any consolation, it is that this is not the first time.

“There are forces of nature—and forces of man—that challenge our ability to experience the presence of Christ,” said Gregory Mansour, the Maronite bishop of Brooklyn.

“[COVID-19] is different from persecution. But it is the same.”

A born-again Catholic led into personal relationship with Christ by the Navigators, Mansour later reconnected with his ancient Lebanon-based church. His clerical colleagues there received thousands of ISIS-fleeing Christians from Syria and Iraq.

“There was a deliberate desire to obliterate churches, hymnals, prayers, and people,” he said. “The only thing we had left was…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Soleimani’s Death Doesn’t End Iran’s Influence on Middle East Christians

Soleimani Funeral
(via Fars News Agency)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 28, 2020.

Middle East Christians might shrug their shoulders. They might even fret and worry. But perhaps Qassem Soleimani got what he deserved.

“We regret what happened. We do not want anyone to die, because Christianity wants the good of all,” said Ashty Bahro, former head of the Kurdistan Evangelical Alliance.

“But a person leads himself to his own destiny.”

Soleimani, head of Iran’s special operations Quds Force, was killed by a US rocket strike on January 3. It was a rapid escalation following the Iran-linked death of an American contractor, a retaliatory attack on the responsible Iraqi militia, and the storming of the US embassy in Baghdad.

According to the US State Department, Soleimani, who reported directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, was responsible for 17 percent of American deaths in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.

He also enraged Sunni Muslims by engineering the subsequent Iranian defense of Syria’s regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad. With Russia and the Iran-backed military wing of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the shelling of rebel-held cities resulted in the displacement of thousands during Syria’s civil war.

But Soleimani was also acclaimed for his role in fighting ISIS, personally directing Iraqi militias from the front lines.

Thus, Middle East Christians have mixed feelings about his death—and the immediate aftermath.

Some Syrian believers see no benefit to anyone.

“Iran was working with the US government in certain agreements. Why did you destroy them?” asked Maan Bitar, pastor of the Presbyterian churches in Mhardeh and Hama, noting both the fight against ISIS and the nuclear deal.

“This will prompt a severe reaction that will hurt…”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

The Road from Damascus: How an Evangelical Syrian Spoke at Harvard’s Commencement

Tony Alkhoury
Image: Courtesy of Tony Alkhoury

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 7.

Following Turkey’s recent incursion into Syria and establishment of a “safe zone” in coordination with Russia, the beleaguered nation faces another refugee crisis. According to the United Nations, 6.7 million Syrians have registered with their High Commission for Refugees. Turkey hosts the largest share, with 3.4 million, followed by Lebanon with 1 million.

The United States: 21,645, according to official State Department figures, from the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Of those, 536 were admitted in the last 12 months.

Of the total, 21,245 are Muslim, compared to only 211 Christians, including five Protestants. Tony Alkhoury is not one of them. But his is a story of potential for those allowed in.

Born in Homs and an evangelical Christian, he is 1 of 450 Syrians in the US on an active student visa.

In Arabic, Alkhoury’s family name means “the priest.” Currently pursuing a PhD in practical theology at Fuller Seminary, in 2016 he began a unique cross-cultural ministry adventure—at Harvard University.

Through it drove the divinity student to the depths of depression, it ended with rapturous applause.

“I want to live, I want to love, and I want to be loved,” he told the student body, which selected him to deliver the commencement address this past May. “I want to fight to keep hope and make meaning of all the things that I do not have control over.”

In the prime of his life, Alkhoury witnessed the destruction of Syria. America might have been a refuge for many, until President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Syrian visas reached a high point of 15,479 in 2016, the year of Alkhoury’s arrival. In January 2017, Trump issued his executive order banning citizens of initially seven Muslim-majority nations—challenged consistently in the courts and modified to include non-Muslim countries—and the number dipped to 3,024. In 2018, it fell to 41.

The meaning of it all, for which Alkhoury has long been seeking, has been years in the making.

Born in 1984 to Orthodox parents, he attended the local Alliance church in Homs. In 2005, he felt a call to full-time ministry.

Alkhoury became a youth pastor, volunteering also in peacemaking initiatives. Initially excited by the Arab Spring…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Syrian Christians Brave Insecurity to Stay Behind and Help

Syria Open Doors
via Open Doors USA

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 18.

Though most of the fighting has stopped for now, Turkey’s incursion on Kurdish-controlled northern Syria has left another humanitarian crisis in its wake.

Local churches as well as Christian organizations like Open Doors and Preemptive Love Coalition have prioritized caring for the citizens who took the risk to stay behind and helping the displaced return.

Last Saturday night, after three days of Turkish bombing, the Alliance Church of Qamishli met to make a decision. Would they flee for safety, or remain and help?

To some degree they had no choice.

Fadi Habsouna, a father of two, was injured when missiles hit his home and ruined his shop. His wife is in critical condition. His grandfather’s home was destroyed by a bomb. The pastor housed them in church-owned property, and decided to remain to assist the family, and others suffering similarly.

The church agreed; only eight families would leave.

“These are extremely brave people who want to be salt and light in their communities,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, who relayed this story from his field staff. “They want to maintain the presence of Jesus and reach out.”

Open Doors is better known for its advocacy work on behalf of the persecuted; Syria ranks no. 11 on its World Watch List of places hardest to be a Christian. Its local partners keep a low profile in order to provide on the ground assessment. But the crisis in Syria has driven them to humanitarian aid.

It is not the first time. Following the rise of ISIS in 2014, Open Doors helped 150,000 Christians located in camps along the Turkish and Lebanese borders. Now their community hubs are providing food, medical care, hygiene kits, and temporary shelter in the northeast Syrian towns affected by the Turkish incursion.

“Christians have to make hard choices,” Curry said. “Leave the communities they were raised in, move inland, or …”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Christians Killed on Syria’s Front Lines

Turkey Shelling Syria
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 11.

Three Christians have been killed in Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, reported In Defense of Christians (IDC), citing their sources on the ground.

In Qamishli, a Syriac Christian and his wife died, while in Ras al-Ain an additional Syriac Christian civilian was killed. Ten civilians were injured in the attacks.

“People were so scared, they were telling me, ‘They are bombing us right now!’” Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, told NPR. “We think this is a message to the Kurds and Christians there to leave, so Turkey can move refugees there. We think it’s a form of ethnic cleansing.”

The Turkish operation focused initially on a 60-mile stretch of land between the two Arab-majority cities of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, a sparsely populated area known as Syria’s breadbasket, reported BBC. IDC, which advocates for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, said that this area has large concentrations of Christians.

In total seven civilians were killed, including two children, reported Channel 4. Retaliatory Kurdish mortar fire into Turkey killed…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Syrian Christians to US: ‘Don’t Abandon Us Now’

Kurds Syria USA
Image: Chris McGrath / Getty Images; The Kurdish-led and American-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) announced the defeat of the Islamic State in at a ceremony in Baghouz in March.

This article was first published by Christianity Today on October 8.

Not long after the defeat of the Islamic State in the area, Syrian Christians warn that US military withdrawal from the Kurdish-controlled region, announced yesterday by President Donald Trump, will expose them to danger.

“The expected military invasion [by Turkey] and the possible confrontation with the Kurds might oblige Christians of the region to leave,” said Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon. “This means one more tragedy to the Christian presence in Syria.”

Seeking to honor his campaign promises to extract America from “endless war,” Trump yielded to Turkey’s demand to establish a “safe zone” along its southern border with Syria. Since August, the United States and Turkey administered a joint buffer zone patrol in the Kurdish-majority area.

Turkey’s objectives are two-fold. First, to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey. Second, to clear the border of Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist entity by both Ankara and Washington. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to establish a 20-mile corridor unilaterally, frustrated by US cooperation with Kurdish fighters belonging to the PKK.

The Kurdish-controlled area of northeast Syria stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Approximately 750,000 people live there, including estimates of between 40,000 and 100,000 Christians.

Over 700,000 Christians have fled Syria since 2011. And while some warn of further displacement, others fear a greater threat.

“Turkey aims to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people,” said a statement issued by…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

US Catholics Now as Concerned About Persecution as Climate Change

Aid to the Church in Need Iraq
Decapitated statue of Our Lady in the destroyed St Addai’s Church, Karemles, northern Iraq, via ACN-UK.

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on March 22.

American Catholics are growing more concerned about the fate of the world—and with it, Christian persecution.

More than 9 in 10 now identify persecution as either “very” or “somewhat” severe. This is roughly the same percentage as an identical poll last year, both sponsored by the US branch of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). But over the last 12 months, the share choosing the “very severe” category rose from 40 percent to 46 percent.

And their level of concern went with it, rising 9 percentage points. Last year, 49 percent of Catholics described themselves as “very concerned.” This year, 58 percent.

The poll surveys 1,000 American Catholics across the spectrums of age, politics, and piety, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates.

It showed that intense Catholic concern is growing on several global issues. Those “very concerned” about human trafficking rose from 72 percent to 82 percent. Poverty climbed from 68 percent to 74 percent. The refugee issue jumped from 50 percent to 60 percent. And climate change nudged forward from 55 percent to 57 percent.

So while those unconcerned about Christian persecution fell by half (from 18% to 9%), overall the “church in need” only ranked No. 4 among the list of issues.

But last year, it was…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Excerpts

What Next for Syria?

Syrian city of Aleppo

The conflict has turned a corner as the Syrian government regained control of Damascus and begins pushing into rebel-held areas.

LobeLog interviewed Josh Landis of Syria Comment to ask him what happens next. The full interview is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts on competing regional policies.

Turkey:

Idlib was one of the poorer regions of Syria. It was a Muslim Brotherhood and rather Salafi place before the revolution. Now it’s become a dumping ground for all of the defeated rebel forces that have been pushed out of the various rebel pockets. They’ve all been pushed into Idlib, and it’s become this very unhappy collecting point.

Today we’re seeing lots of violence there internally, between militias that are vying for supremacy. But also, Turkey is protecting Idlib. Turkey does not want it to be conquered, because in doing so Assad would push tens of thousands of militia fighters into Turkey. That will make the refugee problem much more difficult for Turkey and saddle Turkey with up to 100,000 hardened rebel fighters, many of whom have links to al-Qaeda.

This gives Turkey a lot of incentive to take Idlib province and try to set up a satellite statelet that can act as a holding province for these rebels.

Israel:

Israel wants Syria to remain weak. The civil war has opened up a lot of potential for advances on Israel’s northern border. It’s destabilized that border, but at the same time it’s weakened Assad tremendously. He’s no longer a military threat to Israel, and the militias that are now along the border also don’t pose a threat.

Even if they have links to the Islamic State or al-Qaeda they’re small and have no missile capabilities or other advanced military technology. Israel would like to be able to preserve those gains and consolidate its control over the Golan. It’s now pressing the United States to follow up on its Jerusalem recognition by recognizing the Golan as Israeli territory.

United States:

The U.S. has closed off all of the major highways out of Syria to the east. International trade for Syria has been blocked off and sanctions tightened. The U.S. is dead set against international organizations playing any role in Syrian redevelopment so the U.S. can continue to strangle Syria and keep it extremely poor.

You might argue that this is bad from a counterterrorism perspective because it will create more instability, but I think the U.S. is willing to pay that price because it won’t hurt the U.S. directly.

We’re not sure exactly what the U.S. is promoting in Syria, but all the talk coming out of Washington reflects an effort to squeeze Syria politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily in order to unseat Assad and replace him with a government that’s going to be pro-West and anti-Iran.

Any favorites?

 

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Mideast Christians See Russia–not the US–as Defender of their Faith

 

Russia Middle East Christians
Image: John Holcroft

This article was first published in the July print edition of Christianity Today.

War was swirling in Syria. Rebels were pressing. And Maan Bitar was the only hope for American help.

“Because I am evangelical, everyone thinks I have channels of communication,” said the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Mhardeh. “Syrians believe the United States has the power to stop the conflict—if it wants to.”

In the early years of the civil war, Bitar’s Orthodox neighbors were desperate to convince the US and its allies to end support of rebel forces. Mhardeh, a Christian city 165 miles north of Damascus, was being shelled regularly from across the Orontes River.

But salvation came from a different source. Russian airpower turned the tide, and Syrian government-aligned troops drove the rebels from the area.

Russian intervention on behalf of Mideast Christians has pricked the conscience of many American evangelicals. Long conditioned to Cold War enmity, the question is entertained: Are they the good guys in the cradle of Christianity? Or are persecuted Christians just a handy excuse for political interests?

“The news tells us Russian troops are bringing peace to the region, said Vitaly Vlasenko, ambassador-at-large for the Russian Evangelical Alliance. “Maybe this is propaganda, but we don’t hear anything else.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

But here also is testimony from Egypt, unfortunately cut due to word count:

“If Russia helps anyone to save them from death and danger [in Syria], we welcome this,” said Boules Halim, spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church. “Not just for Christians, but for humanity.”

Halim had no comment on Russian political developments with Egypt. But despite technically not being in communion over disagreements with the fifth-century Chalcedonian Creed, relations with the Russian Orthodox Church are growing increasingly strong.

Pope Tawadros has met Putin. Theological students are being exchanged. Russian monks are touring Egyptian monasteries.

“We are coming together in dialogue,” Halim said. “Better communication leads to better understanding.”

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Middle East Published Articles World Watch Monitor

Christians to “Maintain Presence” and “Avoid Victimhood,” Says Syria Expert

 

Syria Middle East Concern
Children playing in Beit Sakhour, a neighbourhood in East Aleppo largely destroyed in Syria’s ongoing conflict (World Watch Monitor)

Following up on my recent article for World Watch Monitor, here is Part II of my interview with Miles Windsor, head of advocacy for Christian charity Middle East Concern.

These questions and answers were cut for length from the original, but I am pleased to share them here for the consideration of readers.

 

If you have your own viewpoint on who Syrian Christians support, even if in a personal capacity, please share.

It is important to recognize the extent to which situational dynamics influence statements of political allegiance, including by church leaders. Most Syrian Christians are in areas controlled by the Assad regime. The conflict situation also heightens the extent to which communities rely on patronage, a significant factor in Middle Eastern society even in peaceful times.

So we should not be surprised that church leaders readily voice support for President Assad. That is not to suggest that such articulations are empty, but rather that nuanced interpretation is usually necessary.

 

It can be simplistic to suggest ‘what the Bible says’ Syrian Christians should do. But are there Biblical principles you would counsel for them in the midst of a complicated state of difficulty? Might there be multiple options of God-honoring response?

We must guard against simplistic or overly prescriptive approaches. There is biblical basis and precedent for a range of responses to danger and persecution. The Apostle Paul who explained that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim 3:11,12) is the same Apostle who fled from Damascus to escape murderous plots (Acts 9:23-25). Other times he challenged the injustice and brutality of an imminent public flogging based on his citizenship rights (Acts 22:25).

It can be tempting to offer reminders of basic principles such as “trust in God and his promises,” and “do not deny your faith.” Although well-intentioned, true, and important, such advice is usually obvious and can come across as crass over-spiritualization, especially if offered by outsiders.

Better is to defer to our Syrian and other Middle Eastern sisters and brothers who are ministering in the heat of conflict and refugee situations and whose profound theological reflection is now shaping their own ministry approaches.

For example, two themes that are regularly emphasized in relation to the Middle Eastern church are the importance of presence and the danger of victimhood. The importance of Christian presence in Syria is the prophetic role of the Church and the calling of Christ’s people as agents of reconciliation and transformation. The imperative of maintaining a witness to the love, hope, peace, and life of Christ in a context of hatred, hopelessness, conflict and death, helps to understand how vital it is for the salt and light of Christ’s people to permeate and help shape a post-conflict Syria.

To rise above the mentality of victimhood is to reject the vicious cycles of blame, demonization and revenge, to acknowledge the comparable suffering of many others, to build alliances with the majority which also strives for peaceful coexistence, and to reject the label of ‘minority,’ whether imposed by those seeking to control, or to protect.

These are rich seams to mine as Syrian Christians seek to respond in ways which honor God, but they should also be a challenge to the more comfortable and complacent parts of the global church!

 

Describe a little bit about how MEC can speak authoritatively on the subject.

An association of many Christians and Christian ministries in the Middle East and North Africa, Middle East Concern (MEC) supports those in the region who are marginalised, discriminated against or persecuted for being or becoming Christians. Through a wide network of church and ministry partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, MEC seeks to provide support which is led by the priorities of MENA Christians. This support includes advocacy – challenging injustice and seeking to ensure that the voice of MENA Christians is heard and understood.

 

Please click here to read an excerpt of Part I, or here for the full article published at WWM.

 

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Middle East Published Articles World Watch Monitor

“Avoid Persecution-of-Christians Label,” Says Syria Expert

Syria Middle East Concern
Children playing in Beit Sakhour, a neighbourhood in East Aleppo largely destroyed in Syria’s ongoing conflict (World Watch Monitor)

From my new article for World Watch Monitor:

As the conflict in Syria continues, Jayson Casper sat down with Miles Windsor, head of advocacy at Christian charity Middle East Concern, to discuss where Syrian Christians’ allegiance lies, whether those who fled the country may return, and how Christians in other countries can help.

Jayson Casper: There has been much reporting about how Syrian Christians supposedly support the regime, the opposition, or are neutral. There is also reporting about how their stance may have shifted over time. What is your perspective on how the hard-to-define majority of Syrian Christians should be described?

Miles Windsor: The first point to stress is that within Syria’s sizeable Christian communities, there are both supporters of the Assad regime and supporters of opposition groups, so it’s important to avoid blanket generalisations. And a second basic point is that for most Syrian Christians, and indeed most Syrians generally, political allegiance is usually nuanced or qualified.

“Improved security alone will not be sufficient to facilitate large-scale return of IDPs”

Although there are Syrian Christians who support, and are active within, opposition groups, most Syrian Christians tend to favour the Assad regime. This is certainly the public position articulated by most Syrian church leaders.

Such support has historical roots. The Assad regime has traditionally granted a significant degree of freedom to the diverse religious communities of Syria.

 

Please click here to read the full article at World Watch Monitor.

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Russia, Air and Chemical

Flag Cross Quran

God,

For the first time in two years, Aeroflot returned to Cairo. Russia had suspended all air travel following a terrorist attack on a tourist carrier, and security precautions still prevent direct flights to the popular Red Sea resorts.

Let it not happen again, God.

But as Russian-Egyptian relations return to normal, give discernment in current affairs.

How should the government consider accusations of poison in the UK, and gas in Syria?

Let the truth be known, God, if only to the privy of world leaders. Let Egypt’s president act accordingly.

But give knowledge also to the world community.

Allow heads-of-state the discretion to maneuver. But disclose secret deeds done in darkness. Give no cover to illness in conduct.

None can stand on your holy hill, God. But the heart of a man may yet be made pure. May such men lead their nations well.

Help Egypt stand with many. As necessary, help Egypt stand alone.

Strong. In peace.

Amen.