(MNN) — The nations that make up the Friends of Syria group met Friday in
Tunisia to ask the United Nations to step in as peacekeepers once President
Bashar Assad agrees to a cease-fire.
They began evacuations from Homs Friday afternoon but also hoped to
get aid into areas hardest hit by the regime's crackdown on dissidents. Carl Moeller,
president and CEO of Open Doors USA, says, "In the big picture, it's a
humanitarian crisis in Syria. The city of Homs is being reduced to starvation
for people that are not caught in the crossfire and killed. All the reports out
of Homs say that it's truly been turned into a ghost town–a warzone."
Although President Bashar Assad has not responded to similarly-worded requests in the past, what's different this time is the pressure by the
nearly 70 nations involved in the group. If Assad refuses to respond, he faces a
tightening noose of international isolation and sanctions, and an increasingly
emboldened and powerful armed resistance.
However, the possibility
of his departure is alarming to Syrian Christians. Moeller explains, "They
have a relationship with the government that allowed them to be sort of
protected underneath Assad's regime. Assad kept the forces that would destroy
the Christian community at bay through his own dictatorial power. But if Assad
is removed from power, all bets are off."
What faces Syria's Christians is a situation similar to that faced
by Iraq's remnant church. "In those
areas where the rebels have taken up the government–like in Homs, the Christian
population was terrified of the Islamists who were leading the revolution. It
is really the case where the Christians are caught between two fires: the
dictatorial regime of Assad, and the Islamic extremist-led revolution that puts
Christians squarely in the crossfire."
The familiar ring of this story comes from the refugee population
that fled to Syria to escape religicide in Iraq. "It's a 'frying pan to
the fire' sort of situation where many tens of thousands of Christians are in
Syria from Iraq, and now they're facing the very same sort of situation with
the deterioration of stability and security."
Christians want to stay; others desperately seek to emigrate, said
Moeller. Many say they simply can't leave. "Immigration opportunities have been
largely shut off because the borders are closed. There is an almost impossible
situation for the Christians there. They're remaining as much as they
Knowing that they are targets
has also hampered ministry. "For
the first time in some of these places, we've had to curtail Christian meetings,"
Moeller notes, adding that on Fridays–the
weekly Islamic day of assembly, many Christian schools now close. "Christians
have had their churches attacked, and so forth, so we're really trying to assess
the situation from the Christian's perspective."
rampant killing, theft, and kidnapping of children, some parents have stopped
sending their children to school. Syria also suffers a lack of fuel and
electricity, an economy in shambles, and few jobs.
together to worship, and people have strong faith," one Syrian pastor
said. Currently, Christians are not under direct attack. "But we don't
know if things change how they will treat us," he said.
Moeller confirms this attitude. "The
one thing that is sustaining the church there now is their faith. Many of the
believers are still clinging to their faith as their hope for the future even though,
politically speaking, it's very unclear what their fate will be."
Whether or not Assad steps down and a peacekeeping mission begins,
the days ahead for Christians will be difficult. Moeller says Open Doors is coming alongside the
Church with resources and other encouragement. The best thing you can do is to "pray for the believers themselves,
that they know they're not alone, that they're encouraged in the midst of this
very, very difficult time, and that fear would not dominate their churches, but
that they would continue to live the faith that they cling to."