Anwar in Syria was thrown out when he became a Christian - he didn't have a home or family, but he had the incredible hope of life lived with Jesus. Thanks to Open Doors supporters, a Centre of Hope was able to give him somewhere to live, and the chance to teach the next generation of believers. Here's his story of courage and hope.
Hope hasn’t always been easy for Anwar* - not until he found a Centre of Hope in Syria. Growing up in that country, he was immersed in the life of a strict and secretive Islamic sect where his father was a sheikh – a Muslim leader. As a teenager, Anwar started to doubt the religion he’d been raised in: “I was very curious about who Allah really was – does he love me? What should I do to please him?” But Anwar’s father wouldn’t – or couldn’t – answer his questions.
"I wasn't supposed to let any Christian enter my life" Anwar
There was one thing that Anwar did feel certain about: that he shouldn’t be friends with Christians. “I was sure that Christianity is a lie – to us, Christians were deluded; they worship a human not a God, they are infidels. I wasn’t supposed to let any Christian enter my life.”
But when Anwar went to college, he met a Christian girl who shared her faith in Jesus with him. He responded by mocking her. “I didn’t believe a word she said, especially when she told me that He is alive now and I can speak to Him myself.”
Life got really hard for Anwar, and he stopped seeing the possibility of hope. “I went through deep depression. At that point, I believed that Allah hated me, and I hated him for allowing all this to happen to me.”
Despite being mocked, the Christian girl kept telling Anwar the gospel, and encouraged him to try talking to Jesus.
“I thought to myself – why not try this?” The girl explained to Anwar how to pray to Jesus, and he went to his room and tried. “At first, nothing changed – but after a while, I became addicted to knowing Jesus. I poured my heart out to Him, and suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore.”
That was the turning point for Anwar’s life. The moment that hopelessness turned into hope. “I fell in love with Jesus – He is my best friend,” says Anwar.
"I fell in love with Jesus - He is my best friend" Anwar
Amazingly, many Muslims are having the same encounter with Jesus in the Middle East – thanks largely to the courageous witness of the church, like Anwar’s friend. That’s despite a decade of war and persecution significantly depleting the number of believers in the Middle East. Praise God, the remaining believers, and those who are returning to rebuild their lives, are spreading the good news of Jesus with extraordinary courage.
But believers from a Muslim background, like Anwar, are the most vulnerable to persecution. They face rejection, violence and social isolation. Some lose their inheritance and property. When difficult periods come, like the pandemic, these believers do not have any support from their families and the communities they grew up in.
Sadly, that was Anwar’s experience. At first, he hid his faith, knowing the danger that would come if his family found out – he’d grown up hearing about people who converted and then were imprisoned, attacked or even murdered.
“I remember when my friend took me to the church for the first time in the city, I didn’t hear the sermon or the songs,” says Anwar. “I was preoccupied by the fear of someone recognising me and telling my family.”
Anwar was well-known in his community, and it wasn’t long before news did indeed get back to his family. They rejected him and threw him out. One of his sisters told him, “Have you no honour? Don’t ever come back here. You are no longer my brother.”
Thankfully, a friend put Anwar in touch with Open Doors partners who run a Centre of Hope near him. This church supports believers from a Muslim background who’ve been rejected by their families or lost their livelihoods, and was able to provide Anwar with fellowship and money for rent.
It’s one of 40 designated Centres of Hope in Syria, with dozens more in Iraq, which provide emergency aid and trauma care, as well as income-generating projects to help people rebuild their lives for the long-term. Open Doors partners also work with 90 other churches in Syria and, with your help, this number is increasing – the aim is to work with an additional 12 new churches each year.
“We work with churches because churches are the most sustainable institution in history,” says Mourad*, a local partner who coordinates Open Doors work in Syria. “Governments come and go, organisations come and go, but the churches stay. You can reach everyone through the church. We give them hope.”
Anwar certainly received that hope: “They helped me in my hardest conditions. This was a new hope for me, a new start,” he says. In Anwar’s most desperate moment, the Centre of Hope was there for him – and now he teaches there. He teaches English to children aged 11-14, and talks to them about Jesus. “Children don’t just need a teacher; they need someone who has a relationship with God and can influence them positively,” he says.
“The Centre of Hope gave me a new beginning in my life, after my old family became like strangers. I was alone. Now I’ve met a new family in the church, and I belong to this family. If it weren’t for the Centre of Hope, I don’t know what I would have done. I would be homeless, hungry and alone.”
"If it weren’t for the Centre of Hope, I don’t know what I would have done. I would be homeless, hungry and alone." Anwar
And, of course, it was the encounter with Jesus that really changed Anwar’s life: “Jesus is everything to me. When I had no one, He was with me. He’s my brother, my companion, my best friend. I don’t talk to my family, I just talk to Him about everything. Jesus truly saved my life.
“I say to all the people going through the same circumstances I did: ‘Have courage and trust the Lord because it’s worth it, it’s really worth everything’.”
Sadly, there are many believers who are experiencing the same rejection and persecution that Anwar faced. Open Doors is in the sixth year of the seven-year Hope for the Middle East campaign, which supports and strengthens the church in Syria and Iraq to offer hope to displaced and persecuted believers and to the wider community. Open Doors partners have been in the region for many years, and are uniquely well-placed to stand alongside the persecuted church in times of crisis and for the long-term.
Mourad sees the impact that support has, giving hope in emergencies and over generations: “When a hungry person gets a food package with love and respect, it gives him hope. When someone can start a small business, that gives hope. When a believer from a Muslim background is offered training, it gives hope. And giving hope is contagious. Someone who has hope, spreads hope.”
Christians in the Middle East desperately needs hope at the moment – facing the continuing impact of Covid-19, on top of the legacy of lengthy conflict and ongoing persecution. Hope is the most powerful force – and you can keep hope alive in an environment where it could so easily die.
With your support and prayers today, that contagious hope can keep spreading.
*Name changed for security reason
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