Buildings crumble but faith remains

Christian churches in Syria distribute relief and hope

Emily Loewen, Mennonite Central Committee
Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the National Presbyterian Church of Aleppo in Syria, stands at the site where his church building once stood. In 2015 a new building was erected and the church continues to distribute MCC aid, including comforters and kits. (MCC photo by Emily Loewen)

In the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Rev. Ibrahim Nseir stands on the pile of rubble that used to be his church. The building where his congregation once worshipped is now a pile of broken stones and dust.

Although its church building has crumbled, the faith of the National Presbyterian Church of Aleppo has held strong through seven years of war. In its new building in another part of the city, the congregation fills the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Nseir says the conflict has helped the church grow stronger. “Because of the crisis the people started to regather and rethink their priorities,” he says.

Churches in Syria, like Nseir’s, have been strong partners for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in providing relief during the conflict. They reach out to their communities and support those in need, both Christians and Muslims. “During the crisis people forgot their religion and remembered one thing: we are all human beings,” Nseir says.

His congregation is one of the churches distributing shipments of MCC comforters and kits and cash allowances coordinated through the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.

One family, who now relies on the cash allowances, had to sell their two-bedroom house in 2013 after their only son was kidnapped and held for ransom. The mother estimates the allowance covers about half of their monthly needs, paying for things like medication and electricity. “I always thank God for the ministry of the Presbyterian church of Aleppo,” she says. “And I ask the Lord to bless those who are giving. The assistance is sustaining us.”

For people who have lived through seven years of war and continue to see much conflict, the support also brings hope. In distributing relief, Nseir tells those in Aleppo that it is a sign that “God is doing a lot in the country; God is not absent.”

In Homs, Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of the Syrian Orthodox church says the church’s role in this crisis is to give people hope and a light to move forward. Providing the community with much-needed supplies helps offer that hope. “This light helps them cross step by step through this dark time,” he says. “Our hope came from [MCC], because of you we bring hope to others.”

The Syrian Orthodox Church distributes monthly cash allowances and uses financial support from MCC for their orphanage. MCC also helps the church provide winter fuel.

The Orthodox Church in Homs and the orphanage on the same grounds were heavily damaged in 2012 as an opposition group behind the church traded fire with government forces. The back of the church, the roof of the sanctuary, the orphanage, the courtyard and Sunday school rooms were all destroyed.

The church buildings have now been rebuilt and the congregation continues to worship together. Their faith remains strong, and Bishop Selwanos is optimistic for the future, “We have a big hope that Syria will be set free and be peaceful again,” he says. Knowing that support comes from other Christian churches around the world is especially meaningful.

The head of the development arm of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Homs, who met with MCC staff in February, said that by working together, MCC and the Syrian Orthodox church have become family. He wants to thank the individuals and churches around the world who support MCC’s relief work in Syria: “These people’s generosity and donations are the key to bringing back life to Syria.”

Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the National Presbyterian Church of Aleppo in Syria, stands at the site where his church building once stood. In 2015 a new building was erected and the church continues to distribute MCC aid, including comforters and kits. (MCC photo by Emily Loewen)

Rev. Ibrahim Nseir (left) holds an MCC comforter made in Europe, ready to be distributed by the National Presbyterian Church in Syria. (MCC photo by Emily Loewen)

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