When rebels rose up against the regime in Syria in March 2011 they perhaps did not know they were starting what might become an unwinnable war. In just over two years, an estimated 70,000 people have been killed and, according to UN estimates, nearly 1.5 million have fled their country, while more than four million are thought to be internally displaced.
What happens to an IFES movement in the midst of civil war? Going to classes is dangerous: in January more than 80 people were killed at Aleppo University and in March about 10 more at Damascus University. Many Christians supported the regime in the past and fear for their lives should there be a regime change. Who will lead next? Will there be reprisals? Will there be freedom for Christians?
The Lord is with us in the middle of the storm, so our boat will never sink.
I talked to Jamil, Regional Secretary for the Middle East and North Africa. ‘The country really is at war,’ he said. ‘Students are unable to meet. They are suffering a lot and feel very alone.
‘But last year we went ahead and planned a conference for them in Lebanon. We had hoped for 50 – but 80 came!’
The theme of the event was ‘saving boats in a stormy sea’ – how God is glorified in the midst of a storm. Jamil continued: ‘You cannot imagine the joy and enthusiasm on the participants’ faces as they arrived to absorb, change, grow spiritually and learn how to manage life in the midst of conflict. It was amazing to see students worship and express their joy in spite of the tragedy in which they are living in their country.’
Response from students was overwhelmingly positive. ‘I have learned how to manage conflicts and challenges,’ said Michael. Nour thought that the conference had changed her life and added, ‘I have new ways to manage conflicts and enjoy my life, for Jesus gave me a new view of how to deal with problems.’
Majd agreed: ‘In this conference I could feel myself coming back to life. I have learned that the Lord is with us in the middle of the storm, so our boat will never sink. I learned that there are different methods to face conflicts and manage challenges.’
For some, just getting there safely and meeting with others was immensely heartening. Rami said, ‘I never imagined I could attend this conference; now I’m encouraged to go back with a new spiritual life.’
I learned how to get over my fear, for Jesus is circling my life.
‘It was amazing to get out of my tragedy, to meet and learn with other students peacefully,’ said Stephany. Sami declared: ‘Fear is natural feeling in our circumstances, but I learned how to get over my fear, for Jesus is circling my life.’
As the civil war continues in Syria, the future of the IFES movement there remains uncertain. ‘Will they be able to continue to meet with one another?’ asks Jamil. ‘Will they be able to leave the country to go to future conferences? We just don’t know.’
So please pray for Christian students as they put into practice what they have learned about living in the midst of conflict. Pray that they will be able to encourage and support one another in their walk with Christ, that they will experience an inner peace that passes all understanding. And pray too that others will be drawn to Jesus as they see what a difference it makes when he comes to your boat in the storm.