A Once Vibrant City
Aleppo (Halab in Arabic) has a rich five thousand-year history of vibrant communities cultivated on its soil. Alexander the Great in 333 BC, bishops during the first three hundred years of Christianity, and governors of the Persian Period called this city home. Aleppo was, in fact, the third largest city in the Ottoman Empire.
In the current century, tourists have visited the Souk with its exotic smells and covered streets, climbed through the ancient Saint Simon Citadel, and gazed on the Great Mosque with its towering minarets. The city, vying with Damascus for the title of “largest in Syria,” was inhabited by families who traced their ancestry back hundreds of years. Most of them were Sunni Muslims, though Christians from the ancient church also called Aleppo home.
How Did It Come to This?
All that changed in 2012. That’s when the fighting that began in the wake of the Arab Spring finally reached the city. It’s inhabitants have fled en masse via Europe, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan to various countries offering respite from the violence ever since. Before-and-after pictures depicting the destruction of the historic city flood television screens and expose the world to villas in ruins, crumbling office buildings, and bloodied faces of children pulled from rubble. Those images are the new reality that has brought the ancient city to her knees.
Since the Syrian war reached Aleppo, the city has been ground zero in a civil war between rebel militias struggling for their freedom and government forces with a different agenda. The front lines have continually shifted back and forth throughout the city. The result has been hundreds of thousands of lives lost and millions displaced from their homes and lives in Syria.
In October 2014, a Syrian Baptist pastor caught in the middle of the fighting wrote to some English-speaking friends:
“Here in my room, around midnight, I sit in darkness because we get electricity only one hour per day or less, waiting with others in the building where I live . . . [for] death to visit me . . . it looks [like] death is playing with us hide and seek. So the question or the questions are: Is the next building ours? But when it will be? Shall I stay in my bed, so I’ll rest in peace on my bed? Or should I go down to the ground floor? Should I sleep, or it is better to stay awake to feel the moment when death will come riding on those rockets?”
A year later he and his family were able to leave and relocate to Canada. But others either refuse to evacuate or simply can’t find a way out.
In the past six months, the government has renewed its efforts, with the help of Russian airpower, to claim the entire city for its own. Promised ceasefires have failed. Planned evacuations of citizens have been subsequently canceled as fighting erupted. Sadly, many of the people trapped in Aleppo have recently begun to post horrifying “last goodbyes” on social media, including a seven-year-old child. Constant talk in both mainstream and social media of failed negotiations, liberation, outrage, victory, and massacre create a bipolar message to those trying to understand the situation. And most of the world feels helpless as the atrocities of war continue.
What Can We Do?
The church is certainly not helpless, however. We can and must respond. Here are a few ways to do so:
First and foremost, pray for the people of Aleppo.
Educate yourself on what is happening in the city, and pray specifically for those who are hurting. One refugee told an aid worker that he did not know a single person who has not had a family member die. Traumatic stress is rampant, and the basic necessities of life such as food, clean water, medical care, and safe shelter are disappearing. With the cold winter coming, simple existence will become even more difficult for the people.
Here are a few specific ways to pray:
- As IMB President David Platt recently tweeted, “Plead for the peace, justice, and mercy of Christ to be made known in Aleppo.” Pray that many would hear the truth of the gospel, see Christ-like compassion on display, and respond by faith for salvation.
- Praise God for Syrian Christians who are ministering to their neighbors even in the midst of turmoil themselves. Pray that God will give them courage, safety, and resources to help others.
- Pray for the logistics of rebuilding a city that has been devastated by war. Pray that people from all over the world will help by giving resources and going themselves to meet the massive need. Pray against corruption as groups seek to help.
- Pray for the healing of minds, hearts, and bodies from the trauma and carnage that the people of Aleppo have endured.
Secondly, share your resources. Give sacrificially.
The UN and various aid groups are working with the victims of the Syrian crisis, but the needs are overwhelming. Needs exist both within Syria and among the millions of refugees who have fled the violence. A couple of ways you can give can be found on the International Mission Board website here and here, as well as through Baptist Global Response’s Syrian Crisis aid.
Finally, prayerfully consider how you, your family, and your church will respond when the crisis reaches your own neighborhood.
With the continual flow of refugees out of Syria, more will find their way to the United States, and maybe to your state and city. How will you seek to serve the sojourners in your hometown? How will you, from your hometown, serve those around the world? Seek the Lord’s direction in prayer and ask if you might be called to go to them with the good news of a benevolent King whose kingdom is marked by eternal peace.
Mary Allen was born and raised in North Africa and the Middle East. She has since served in the same areas of the world for twenty-eight years with her husband and children. The Allens live in a country where many of her neighbors are Syrian refugees.
For more information regarding Aleppo, read this article from the Gospel Coalition entitled 9 Things You Should Know About Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis. You can also check out a quick video from David Platt in regards to how Christians should respond to global crises such as the Syrian War and Refugee Crisis. For encouragement as you consider how your family and church should respond to refugees in your community, refer to this article.