Monday, October 21, 2019

RLPB 525. Syria's Christians Ministering in War Zone

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 525 | 22 Oct 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

-- updating RLPB 524 (16 Oct 2019)
by Elizabeth Kendal

On 17 October US Vice President Mike Pence brokered a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Turkey would pause its campaign for 120 hours during which time the US would facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish YPG forces from the proposed 'safe zone'. It was a strange deal in which unconditional surrender was forced on the Kurds and Syrian territory was ceded to Turkey. 'We got what we wanted' boasted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu following the meeting with Pence. But as Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, correctly noted when he spoke to the UN General Assembly on 28 September, neither Turkey nor America -- both of which are in Syria illegally -- have any right to carve up and dish out Syrian territory as if it were their own.

Since then, Turkey has pressed ahead with (as distinct from 'paused') its incursion into the strategic border town of Ras el-Ain. Turkey's plan is to capture Ras el-Ain along with Ain Issa and Tal Abiad, so it might establish a bulwark midway, thereby splitting and isolating Kurdish forces. With the Americans gone, the Syrian government -- with the support of Russia and the approval of the Kurds -- will move to secure the border and drive out Turkey-backed jihadists without risking US casualties.

Turkey's proposed 'safe zone' is 444km long and 32km deep
(deep enough to take in the M4 Highway).
click on map to enlarge

Last week's RLPB quoted an Assyrian priest in Dohuk, Northern Iraq, who was anticipating a flood of refugees from Syria. The flood has not eventuated, primarily because Kurdish forces have closed the border on the Syrian side to prevent people leaving; they do not want to give anyone the opportunity to alter the demographics of north-east Syria.

In the midst of gross insecurity and an unfolding humanitarian crisis, many Christians are opting to remain in the war zone rather than flee to Aleppo or Damascus. They are choosing to remain precisely so they can, through their churches, assist and minister to those in need. Jayson Casper writes in Christianity Today (18 October) that the Alliance Church of Qamishli held a meeting in which it was agreed that only eight families would leave, the rest would remain to minister, witness and 'maintain the presence of Jesus'. The Presbyterian Church of Aleppo has three sister churches in the war zone; while members are staying to help and minister, they have no funding. While some Christian aid groups will also remain, Syria's local churches will bravely and sacrificially carry out the bulk of the aid work. This has also been the case in northern Iraq.

Braving insecurity to minister, witness
and 'maintain the presence of Jesus'.
Christianity Today (18 Oct). Image: Open Doors USA. 

This is an issue for serious prayer. Sociologist Rodney Stark has written on the way in which the early Church's response to plague and other disease epidemics helped change the religious demography of the Roman Empire. Instead of fleeing, locking themselves away or discarding the ill, the persecuted Christians demonstrated sacrificial love following the model of Christ. Not only did Christians nurse one another, thereby increasing their survival rate, they also ministered to their neighbours in an act of powerful witness. The Christian response was unnatural, counter-cultural and high-risk, but because it was love-driven, hope-filled and communal it played an enormous role in Christianity's growth throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, Stark opines that 'had classical society not been disrupted and demoralised by these catastrophes, Christianity might never have become so dominant a faith'. [The Rise of Christianity, by Rodney Stark.]


* intervene to protect, preserve, rescue and sustain his precious Church in Syria and across Mesopotamia; may all who seek her demise be frustrated; may their plots come to naught.

* bless every church and every Christian aid group that has chosen to remain in Syria's northern war zone precisely so they might minister to and serve those who are too frail or poor to flee; may the Lord supply their every need.

* bless every church and Christian aid group that is this day ministering to Syria's multitudes of needy civilians -- all those displaced and impoverished due to war; may the Lord supply their every need.

-- and we pray specifically for protection; for finances and material supplies and of course for Christian volunteers with wisdom, discernment, courage, energy and amazing grace.

-- and we pray the same for the remnant Church in northern Iraq. May the Lord bless the ministry and witness of his suffering Church right across Mesopotamia.

'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.' (Ephesians 3:20,21 ESV)


On 17 October the US and Turkey agreed that Turkey would pause its campaign for 120 hours while Kurdish forces withdrew from the 'safe zone'. This was strange: unconditional surrender being forced on the Kurds and Syrian territory being ceded to Turkey. Neither the US nor Turkey -- both in Syria illegally -- have any right to divide up Syrian territory. With the Americans gone, the Syrian government -- with the support of Russia and the approval of the Kurds -- will move to secure the border and drive out Turkey-backed jihadists. Until the situation stabilises, everyone in the war zone is gravely imperilled. Despite insecurity and hardship, many Christians are choosing to remain, precisely so that, through their churches, they can minister to those in need. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).